By Cnaan Liphshiz
Three Messianic Jews on Wednesday petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the Interior Ministry and the Jewish Agency to allow them to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, and halt what they call "the humiliating and discriminatory treatment" by the government.
The petitioners, John Christopher from California and Nina and Kevin Ayres, a husband and wife from the U.K., identify themselves as Christians. They base their petition on the assertion that they have documents showing their grandparents were Jewish. In their petition, submitted by attorney Michael Decker, they claim this makes them eligible to immigrate to Israel (or make aliyah) according to the Law of Return - regardless of their current religious denomination. Barring them from realizing this right, they say, is illegal and discriminatory.
The petitioners belong to a sect widely known as Messianic Judaism - a religious movement that differs from mainstream Christianity and Judaism by combining elements of each into a single faith.
The Law of Return gives Jews and their spouses the right to claim Israeli citizenship. Section 4A of the law - amended in 1970 - states that "the rights of a Jew are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion."
Christopher and the Ayres couple maintain that since their grandparents were Jewish and seeing as they themselves had never been part of the Jewish religion in the first place, they cannot be seen as having changed their religion and are therefore eligible to make aliyah.
Various Jewish organizations and many individual Israeli Jews strongly oppose the presence of Messianic Jews in Israel because of alleged proselytizing. Some Jewish organizations stress this activity is an important part of Messianic Judaism. "The situation right now is that no one in the Jewish Agency or the Interior Ministry wants to handle an aliyah request from someone who's been labeled a Messianic Jew because the establishment is phobic of them," said Decker, the petitioners' attorney.
'No legal grounds to deny aliyah'
Decker works for the law firm of Caleb Meyers, a U.S.-born representative of the Messianic Jewish community in Israel. "Caleb knows this very well, because this case is similar to his: His father is Jewish and his mother is not," Decker said. In response to a similar petition from last year, the state acknowledged before the court that there were no legal grounds to prevent the immigration of Messianic Jews eligible to make aliyah under the Law of Return. "Despite this position, on the ground their immigration is being prevented," Decker told Anglo File on Wednesday. "Which leads us to the question of whether we are a state governed by law or by Halakhic authorities." He added that he believes he has "no way of losing the petition" because these cases are tantamount to "a person being refused a driver's license for believing in Jesus."
Decker said it is irrelevant whether or not his clients intend to proselytize in Israel. "There is a fear within the Jewish people of outsiders who might come and change our religion. If the legislators want to respond to this sentiment and enact laws, that's fine. But the laws we currently have say my clients can make aliyah."
John Christopher, a high-tech executive, filed a request to make aliyah some 18 months ago on a visit to Israel. Nina and her husband, Kevin - who is a senior manager at one of Europe's largest poultry breeding companies - filed their request around the same time through the Jewish Agency emissary to the U.K. The couple does not have children.
The Interior Ministry and the Jewish Agency never turned down the petitioners, but Decker says that it has become obvious the authorities have decided not to process the requests. "When I checked up on the requests, I had to go through a bureaucratic maze at the end of which I was told the requests had never been filed. But I have receipts and documents proving they were."
Michael Jankelowitz, a Jewish Agency spokesperson, said his organization "facilitates the immigration to Israel of people who are eligible to make aliyah under the Law of Return and in accordance with the laws of the State of Israel." He added the Jewish Agency would refrain from commenting on the specific case because it is currently being reviewed by the court.
The Interior Ministry did not reply to Anglo File's query before press time.
An official with knowledge of the case, who asked not to be identified, said: "What happened is that the Jewish Agency referred the petitioners' cases to the Interior Ministry because the cases were not clear-cut." The source said the problem is that "the applicants might have an ulterior motive, which is to proselyte." For years Messianic Jews immigrated successfully by "lying about their denomination," the source said. "Now they are looking to make noise with this case because they are tired of cheating."