Israel’s Law of Return grants the right of immigration to Israel to all Jews. The Law also applies to their children, grandchildren and their spouses. Pursuant to Section 4A(a) of the Law, the rights of a Jew and the rights of an immigrant also apply to his or her spouse, children, grandchildren, and their spouses. However, this provision “does not apply to Jews who had voluntarily converted to another religion.”
To exercise this right, one must often submit to a screening process at the Consular Department of the Embassy of Israel in the country of origin and fill out an application. The application contains a wide range of questions one of which pertains to the applicant’s religion. Based on our experience, many applicants naively answer this question by stating “Muslim” or “Christian” etc. without realizing that they are making a fateful mistake.
Indication of a non-Jewish religion in the application leads to a certain denial of right of immigration even if the applicant’s Jewish identity is proven beyond any doubt. Officials explain the denial by stating that the applicant had converted to another religion and thus forfeited the right of immigration (pursuant to Section 4A(a) of the Law of Return).
Yet, prior to denying the application, the Consular officers do not explain to applicants that this provision applies only to those who have voluntarily converted to another religion.
Often, applicants “admit” belonging to another religion in the application without elaborating that they had been christened in infancy by one of the parents but have never followed any religion.
What if You Have Been Denied?
Based on several precedents (such as cases of Bresford and Zavidovsky), Section 4A(a) of the Law of Return is considered an exception to the rule, and therefore must be subject to restrictive interpretation.
The High Court of Justice has repeatedly defined “change of religion” and “conversion to another religion” and rejected their literal and formal interpretation by public officials.
The High Court of Justice holds that renunciation of Judaism implied by the Law can be recognized only when it is certain that the applicant not only had been formally accepted into another religion (for example, by christening in infancy) but did in fact become its active follower, i.e. consciously converted into the new religion and observes its rites.
However, the public officials choose the letter of the Law over its spirit and ignore the court rulings by denying applications of Jews who had been christened in infancy or childhood.
Keep in mind that a denial of the application for immigration due to change of religion is not a final verdict. A qualified attorney can file an administrative appeal of the initial determination by the Consular Department and file a petition to the High Court of Justice if such appeal is denied. Your chances for a successful appeal depend on your self-discipline, persistence and timely hiring of a qualified attorney.
By attorneys Arthur Blaer and Itzhak Eitan (Fernaldes)