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High Court rules children eligible for Israeli citizenship even if fathers convert to Judaism after birth

Decision could influence many non- or partially Jewish immigrants to Israel

Illustration: New immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion airport in central Israel on August 14, 2019 (Photo: Flash90).

The children of fathers who convert to Judaism and immigrate to Israel only after they are born will in the future be eligible to receive Israeli citizenship, the High Court ruled this week.

Justices Ruth Ronen and Uzi Vogelman, the interim court president, voted for the ruling, while Justice Alex Stein voted against it, penning an impassioned dissenting opinion.

Ronen argued that the ruling expressed the purpose of the Israeli Citizenship Law, which is to maintain the integrity of the family unit and the welfare of the children while preventing a situation where a minor would be left without status and could potentially be separated from his parents.

The question of citizenship in Israel is complex since it is governed both by the Citizenship Law, as well as by the Law of Return, which grants all Jews, as well as those who have at least one Jewish grandparent, the right to immigrate to Israel.

Since the law is based on the definition of Jewishness, many cases hinging on the exact definition of this question have been argued in the High Court in the past.

The case decided this week was brought forward by the Clement family, who belongs to the community of the African Hebrew Israelite sect living in Dimona, most of whom are African Americans originally from the Chicago area.

According to Haaretz, the Clement family had appealed against a ruling by the district court in Beersheva that rejected their application for citizenship.

The family originally left the United States and came to Israel illegally about 20 years ago with four children, where they joined the Dimona community. They went on to have three more children which they hid from the Israeli authorities and, therefore, never obtained any legal status in Israel.

In 2005, the father, Eliezer Clement, converted to Judaism in the U.S. before returning to Israel and receiving citizenship under the Law of Return. After five more children were born, the family began to work to regulate the status of their children and requested citizenship for them.

In December 2019, the state approved granting citizenship to the four children born in Israel after the father converted, by virtue of their birth in Israel to a parent who is an Israeli citizen.

While based on an extreme and unusual case, the ruling could have consequences for many non-Jewish or partially Jewish immigrants to Israel, including those in the Messianic and Evangelical communities.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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