AG said to order state to stop revoking immigrants’ citizenship

Interior Ministry has been conducting retroactive checks on immigrants who apply for residency for their non-Jewish partners

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative photo of a couple. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a couple. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The deputy attorney general has ordered the Interior Ministry to halt its practice of retroactively reviewing the citizenship status granted to immigrants as soon as they request permanent status for foreign, non-Jewish partners, the Haaretz newspaper reported Monday.

The vast majority of those affected immigrated from the former Soviet Union, some of them decades ago.

The ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority reportedly routinely asks the Nativ Liaison Bureau, which operates in former Soviet countries under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, to re-examine whether the individuals making such requests for their partners were really Jewish and eligible for Israeli citizenship in the first place and had not obtained it under false pretenses.

In some cases, Nativ has recommended withdrawing citizenship from individuals who have been living as Israeli citizens for many years.

Knesset Member Yulia Malinovsky at a joint Economy and Welfare Committee meeting held to discuss budgets for elderly people, at the Knesset, on December 11, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber entered the picture following a campaign by Knesset lawmaker Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beytenu) and a request by the Knesset State Control Committee for a legal opinion.

After meeting with representatives of the authority and of Nativ, Zilber determined that “it is not possible to re-examine an immigrant’s file in order to determine whether the decision made in his case is reasonable, or whether a similar decision would have been made today,” and that the authority should only act if it had a “clear and unequivocal suspicion that citizenship was obtained on the basis of false information,” Haaretz said.

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Furthermore, documents could not be requested from Israeli citizens in cases where the state had mislaid them.

Last month, Israeli citizen Michael Chibonin, 33, petitioned the High Court against the population authority’s practice.

Chibonin immigrated to Israel 25 years ago with his mother from Georgia.  He was educated in Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces.

He met his Russian partner Ina Cheryoba while she was visiting Israel as a tourist.

Two years ago, Cheryoba was given a tourist visa with which to enter Israel and begin the process of applying for permanent citizenship.

הוא עלה לישראל ושירת כלוחם במג"ב. עכשיו, אחרי 25 שנה בארץ, נדהם מיכאל צ'יבונין לגלות שהמדינה שוקלת לשלול את אזרחותו: "תוקעים לי סכין בלב" >>

Posted by ‎ידיעות אחרונות Yedioth Ahronoth‎ on Sunday, June 4, 2017

At that point, the population authority referred the case to Nativ, which instructed Chibonin to supply additional documentation to prove that he is Jewish.

However, all the documents had been submitted 25 years previously, Chibonin said, and he had not retained copies.

Around six months ago, he was informed that Nativ had recommended withdrawing his citizenship and had transferred the case back to the population authority for a final decision. He was told that after a thorough review of the documents in his file, “it transpires that they do not prove your eligibility under the Law of Return or under the Law of Entry.”

Chaya Mena, the lawyer representing the couple, said the authority’s practice to date had been illegal and discriminatory and that it was not enough to outlaw it in the future — relevant decisions made in the past also had to be reviewed.

Chaya Mena. (YouTube screenshot)

“In the absence of a law authorizing Nativ to carry out retroactive inquiries about the Jewishness of Israeli citizens, its actions exceed its authority and are illegal and void, as are the decisions based them.”

In another case, Alexander Sorov, 52, who lives in the coastal city of Petah Tikva, has been waiting three years for the population authority to sort out the status of his Ukrainian wife.

Sorov immigrated 26 years ago with his mother as a Prisoner of Zion —- the status given to a person persecuted by the Soviet authorities on account of their Zionist activity.  He, too, served in the Israeli army.

On making the request for permanent citizenship for his second wife Yelena Novoshnitz, Sorov — a divorcee — was also asked to provide documents proving his Jewishness.

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