Israel May Register Black Family Seeking Citizenship, Lawyer Says

Israel’s interior Ministry may soon register a black, Jewish American family as immigrants after refusing to recognize their right to Israeli citizenship when they arrived in the country last month, according to the lawyer representing the family.

Dan Evron, a lawyer for the Conservative movement in Israel, said he has not received an official response from the ministry, but “we hear unofficially that it may be resolved soon.”

Elazar Yaisrael, the father, was granted citizenship when he immigrated to Israel last year. However, when he returned on May 11, 1998, with his wife, Sahrah Williams Yaisrael, their four children and two grandchildren, the rest of the family was denied citizenship.

Instead, they were temporarily detained and then given a 30-day visa — which expired about two weeks ago.

The Yaisrael family was converted to Judaism by the Conservative movement in the United States. Under Israeli law, every Jew is entitled to immediate citizenship upon arrival in Israel, including converts from all streams if converted outside Israel.

Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, met with Israeli officials this week in an attempt to resolve the family’s status.

Interior Ministry officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

After his meetings, Meyers said earlier statements by Conservative movement members, including himself, that attributed the incident to racism in the Interior Ministry appear to be mistaken.

“We are clearly saying that this was not an issue of racism,” he said, adding that the movement did not intend to turn the Yaisrael case into a campaign for civil rights in Israel.

“The Conservative movement sees the incident as a bureaucratic mishap,” said Meyers. “But if we were to find that this in fact was racist or had to do with the fact that they were converted by the Conservative movement, believe me, we would mount a severe protest.”

Meyers said the mishap probably occurred because the Yaisraels came from Chicago, an area from which many Black Hebrews have come to Israel.

The Black Hebrews are an African-American sect whose members have settled mostly in the Negev Desert town of Dimona. But Israel tries to prevent their entry into Israel because they are not Jews and therefore not legally eligible for automatic citizenship.

Meyers also said the Yaisrael’s “colorful dress,” which resembles the garb of many Black Hebrews, may have contributed to the misunderstanding.

Meyers said the Yaisrael family was “distressed and obviously worried” about the incident, but they remained upbeat because they were determined to settle in Israel.

Members of the family could not be reached for comment.

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