Interior minister orders expulsion of woman seeking asylum from genital mutilation

Despite refugee advisory board saying Sierra Leone citizen should be allowed to stay, Shaked says it would be ‘absurd’ to protect her when Israel allows male circumcision

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at a conference of the Srugim news website, in Jerusalem, on October 30, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at a conference of the Srugim news website, in Jerusalem, on October 30, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Outgoing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday ordered the expulsion of a woman from Sierra Leone who had requested asylum in Israel because she may be forced to undergo female genital mutilation if she goes home.

Shaked’s decision goes against that of the Refugee Advisory Board, which recommended the woman be granted refugee status.

The minister reasoned that “a distinction must be made between different degrees of severity of circumcision procedures and that in any case there is no fear that a mature woman will be forced to undergo it against her will,” according to a statement from her office.

Shaked compared the practice to the Jewish ritual circumcision of male babies.

“It is unthinkable that the State of Israel would harm its sovereign interest and grant political asylum for an alleged persecution that is similar or close in essence to a common custom among its own citizens,” she said.

“Not only would this be contrary to logic and disproportionate, but it also contradicts the principle of equality before the law, since the result would be that the state would allow the performance of a certain custom on boys (which is a good thing) and others among its citizens, while it provides protection against similar harm to girls, who are not even its citizens, or are even staying there illegally,” according to Shaked.

“Such a policy would be a complete absurdity,” said Shaked, whose Jewish Home party failed to enter the Knesset in November 1 elections that saw opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, now the presumed incoming prime minister, lead a bloc of right-religious parties to victory.

Shaked also noted Israel’s obligation under law to the welfare of Jews living in the Diaspora and to “preserve their cultural, historical and religious heritage.”

She pointed to “an alarming trend in Western countries to “comprehensively compare” female genital mutilation to male circumcision, leading to calls to prohibit “Jewish citizens from observing the mitzvot [commandment] of circumcision.”

“One must take into account the possible consequences of the blanket and indiscriminate recognition of all types of women’s circumcision as grounds for refugee status on Israel’s efforts to curb these legislative initiatives,” she said of moves in a number of European countries to have all genital mutilation banned.

The non-profit Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said it was “shocked” by the decision, which it called “one last round of public relations before she leaves office.”

The group accused Shaked, through her action, of supporting female genital mutilation.

Two years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the threat of female genital mutilation is a basis for granting asylum. The Interior Ministry opposed the decision at the time.

During her term, Shaked has taken a hard line against illegal migrants, many of whom fled their home countries in Africa to seek refuge in Israel.

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