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Saturday, 12 May 2007

State Refusing to Recognise 'pop over' conversions

State refusing to recognize 'pop over' conversions

By Yuval Yoaz <mailto:yuvaly@haaretz.co.il>

More than two years have passed since the High Court of Justice ruled
that the state must recognize the conversions of people who studied in
conversion programs here and then completed the process overseas. But
the Interior Ministry, with the support of Attorney General Menachem
Mazuz, is still refusing to recognize such people as Jewish and grant
them immediate citizenship under the Law of Return.

The reason for the delay is that the verdict authorized the state to set
criteria for when "pop over conversions" (so called because the
converts, though living in Israel, "pop over" to another country to
complete the conversion) should be recognized, in order to prevent the
process from being abused by people who have no interest in being Jewish
and are converting solely to obtain Israeli citizenship. However, the
government has not yet set these criteria, and is refusing to recognize
any pop over conversions until it does so. According to the Justice
Ministry, "an effort will be made" to finalize the criteria by the end
of this month.

Since the court issued its decision, by a 7-4 majority, in March 2005,
several people who have sought to have their conversions recognized and
receive Israeli citizenship have been turned down by the Interior
Ministry. They include Rachel Lazar, 20, a Romanian who underwent a
Conservative conversion in Hungary and is now living with her Israeli
husband in Jerusalem; L.K., a Ukrainian who moved here in 2001 to be
with her daughter (who had married an Israeli), then decided to convert,
which she did in a Reform ceremony in Kiev in 2003; and K.R., a
Brazilian who studied for conversion through Jerusalem's Reform
community and then completed the conversion in Sao Paulo. These three,
and others like them, have all petitioned the High Court against the
Interior Ministry's refusal to grant them citizenship, in defiance of
the March 2005 verdict.

However, the state has requested - and received - countless
postponements of the hearing, on the grounds that it needs more time to
finalize the criteria. In the meantime, it has granted the petitioners
temporary residency.

Attorney Nicole Maor of the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action
Center argued in a letter to Mazuz two months ago that as long as the
state has failed to formulate criteria for pop over conversions, it has
no right to refuse to recognize the conversions undergone by the
petitioners. However, the Justice and Interior Ministries evidently
disagree - though neither related explicitly to this issue when asked
for comment by Haaretz.

Maor also noted that not everyone caught in this limbo has in fact been
granted temporary residency, which confers most of the benefits of
citizenship. Some of the "pop over" converts only have work visas, which
excludes them from the national health insurance plan, while others have
been denied visas entirely.

Equally troubling, she said, the Interior Ministry has begun to insist
that these converts "join a recognized Jewish community in Israel." Such
a demand, if it indeed becomes part of the official criteria for
recognizing pop over conversions, would violate the court's 2005 ruling,
Maor charged.

In response, the Justice Ministry said that in the wake of the verdict,
"which said that it was permissible and desirable to set criteria for
pop over conversions so that they would not be abused for the sake of
obtaining Israeli citizenship via the Law of Return," the Interior
Ministry studied the issue, then sent its conclusions to the attorney
general for his input. "This is a complex issue, and its clarification
naturally requires time," the ministry said. However, it added, "an
effort will be made to finalize the criteria by the end of May at the
latest."

The Interior Ministry said that it is not ignoring the verdict; rather,
it has drafted criteria for recognizing pop over conversions, and these
criteria are now being discussed by Mazuz's office, "with the goal of
completing the process soon. Another discussion is due to take place in
the coming days and the issue will be sent to the attorney general for a
final decision," it said.

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