Give Me Citizenship Or Give Me Death

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He didn’t use those words, but that was essentially what David Ben Moshe was saying by declaring a hunger strike until the government of Israel would confer citizenship on him.

An African American convert to Judaism, Ben Moshe married an Israeli citizen but has, nonetheless, been fighting for his own right of citizenship over the last four years.  Turned down multiple times and being forced to live with no rights or status, he did the only thing he could.  He sent the message that the fate of his very life was in the hands of those who refused to recognize him as part of the Jewish people.  The reason given for his denial was due to the fact that he had been incarcerated years before in the U.S.

According to the Law of Return, it states that “a Jew can be denied citizenship if they are a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare.”  Probably the most renowned case of that type was Meyer Lansky who, at age 70, decided that he wanted to immigrate to Israel.  Although having smuggled weapons to Jews in what was then called Palestine, he was turned down for citizenship, deemed to be ineligible, due to his mafia ties to organized crime.

Indeed, Lansky was known to be a dangerous gangster, but in the case of David Ben Moshe, no one could really give any kind of proof why or how he would endanger citizens of the Jewish homeland.

Sadly, his case is not a one-off in fighting for citizenship.  Many other Jewish individuals have pending cases before the Israeli courts after long battles of having been denied citizenship.  Why?  Mostly due to not adhering to the specific brand of modern-day Rabbinic Judaism as their expression of faith.

In short, even though the Law of Return does not demand that you identify as a religious Jew that has been made a requirement by the interior ministry, over the last few years, in order to doubly qualify as a Jew, worthy of citizenship, in the one and only ancestral homeland. 

Others have been denied for not being able to produce non-essential records of other family members even though they were able to produce parental documentation showing they were Jewish through at least one parent.   They are mercilessly stalled and victims of an abusive system which tries to wear them down until they just give up the fight.  However, over-zealous interior ministry workers have no idea what price a Jew is willing to pay in order to gain that coveted privilege of living in Eretz Israel (the land of Israel). 

One recent case, involving a woman whose biological parents were Jewish, but was placed for adoption at a young age, illustrates that very point.  Once she became an adult, she decided that Israel was where she wanted to make her home.  After being assured that she would be eligible despite having been raised in a non-Jewish home, she made the big step of moving here with her entire family.  It took a lengthy fight over the course of several years, while living in Israel with no medical rights which, in her case could have ended in the death of a her chronically-ill son whose need for medical care was frequent and urgent, before she finally prevailed.

In another case, a prominent Jewish pathologist, Professor Ruth Katz, fought a two-year battle for citizenship to receive what should have been a simple acceptance after having presented her voluminous paperwork and credentials showing her proof of ethnicity – not to mention being a “Cohen.”  Her rights were only granted after her case was brought to the attention of the public through the media.

The Swedish daughter of Holocaust survivor who applied for citizenship was denied on the grounds of having been accused of being a member of another faith, which she denied, but which also did not erase her Jewish ethnicity.  Facing deportation from Israel, where she had been temporarily residing, she stated, “I have suffered a great injustice, because all of my life I have suffered from antisemitism because of my Jewishness, and now that I am trying to live in Israel, the homeland of the Jews in which I feel protected, they are renouncing me… I feel that this is my home and I have security and a sense of family…in contrast to the situation in Sweden, which is getting worse.”  (JPost, 11/21/17)

In the end, she did receive her citizenship, but why did all these individuals have to suffer at the hands of the very people who should have welcomed them with open arms just by virtue of the fact that they were part of the tribe by birth? Why did it have to come down to a hunger strike for this man to shame the keepers of the gate to open the doors to him as the husband and father of Israeli citizens?

As someone who has previously written an open letter to Interior Ministry Minister, Ayelet Shaked and also contacted a couple of Knesset ministers letting them know what is being done to prevent certain Jews from gaining rightful citizenship, nothing continues to be done, and the shameful status quo is unchanged.  No one seems to care that Jewish individuals are being abused and denied what the Law of Return assures them of just through their birth.

Instead, it takes someone threatening to give up his very life and pay the ultimate price for the honor of getting to live on this piece of holy ground.  His hunger strike has come to an end now after being promised that citizenship would be his by January 2023.  Why not today?  Why must he endure yet another year with no health coverage, no right to everyday privileges which would otherwise be his the moment he would receive his identity card.  It’s, apparently, the best deal he could get, but it confers no honor or respect upon those who could just as easily grant him citizenship today.

I love Israel and have spent the last 29 years being faithful and loyal to her and grateful to live here.  It is my home and always will be, but I cannot nor will not support hateful and prejudicial bureaucrats who have chosen to bring agony and torture upon individuals who were born into Jewish families, making them eligible for Israeli citizenship no matter what their persuasion.  It is unconscionable, cruel and heartless to deny a Jew access to their homeland. 

It’s time that our country abide by its own Law of Return which grants the child or grandchild of Jews a homeland regardless of how they were raised or to what expression of the Jewish religion or lack thereof they cling.  No one should have to resort to saying, “Give Me Citizenship or Give Me Death!”

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