Court tells government to reconsider deportation of Hebrew Israelites

Judge says while no formal agreement was reached, community members were repeatedly led to believe by the state that they would be given citizenship

Members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of the southern city of Dimona protest against deportation orders given to some of their members, Habima Square, Tel Aviv, June 1, 2021. Th banner says, 'We are an integral part of the People of Israel.'  (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of the southern city of Dimona protest against deportation orders given to some of their members, Habima Square, Tel Aviv, June 1, 2021. Th banner says, 'We are an integral part of the People of Israel.' (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

An appeals court in Beersheba has told the government to reconsider its order to deport dozens of members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of Dimona.

In the decision given Thursday and reported by the Haaretz daily on Friday, the judge wrote to acting Interior Minister Michael Malkieli saying that the state had repeatedly given members of the community assurances that their requests for citizenship would be treated favorably.

“Even if I assume that the members of the community were never given a governmental promise that the status of all its members would be settled, the many meetings recorded in the transcripts, as well as many statements over the years by those in authority, that the case of the Hebrew community would be examined in a sympathetic manner, could surely cause expectation on behalf of someone from the community that this will be done,” wrote Judge Michael Zilberschmidt.

Zilberschmidt also said that the current minister was not bound by the deportation decision of his predecessor, Ayelet Shaked, who had ordered the deportations.

After the ruling representatives of the community told Haaretz that they were disappointed that the judge had returned the issue to the Interior Ministry and had not simply canceled the deportation order.

Around 50 members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of Dimona, some 3,000 strong, in southern Israel were told in 2021 that they must leave the country for lack of legal status in Israel, or risk forcible deportation by the immigration police.

Members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of Dimona dance during festivities marking the Shavuot festival in the southern Israeli town of Dimona, May 26, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

In response to appeals asking to be allowed to stay, the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority wrote to each family that neither residency in Israel for a long period nor work in the country were sufficient grounds for a change of status.

Many of those slated to be deported were born in Israel or have children who have served in the IDF.

The community, which believes it is descended from an ancient Israelite tribe, began arriving in Israel in 1969, following the late Ben Carter, a Chicago steelworker who renamed himself Ben Ammi Ben Israel and claimed to be God’s representative on earth.

According to its website, the community, which permits polygamy, does not subscribe to any religion “because religions have only divided men.” It does, however, observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays mentioned in the Torah, circumcises its male children eight days after birth, and requires women to observe the biblical laws of purification.

It is not recognized as Jewish by Israel’s religious authorities.

Many community members were granted permanent residency in 2003. From 2004, its youth have been serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Those who complete military service are eligible to apply for citizenship, and most requests are approved.

In 2014, then-interior minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that permanent residents could acquire citizenship if they relinquished their American nationality. (Those who had performed military service were eligible to apply for citizenship without giving up US passports if they had them.)

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