Many people may not be aware that the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic political party Shas controls Israel’s Ministry of the Interior. This is the price Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pays to stay in power. His coalition government requires a parliamentary majority, and Shas required this prize.
When Netanyahu decided to dissolve his last government and go to elections almost four years ago, I feared that he was going to exchange the secular Yesh Atid party under Yair Lapid, whic formed part of his previous government, for the ultra-Orthodox parties in the new coalition. That is just what happened, even though the leader of Shas, Arye Deri, is a convicted felon who spent a good bit of time in jail.
The Interior Ministry controls immigration into the Land, visas for entries and exits, the population registry, citizenship issues and more. There is great injustice from Shas in this role, not only against Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus), but against many others.
For instance, Shas control of the Interior Ministry has resulted in over 7,000 Ethiopian Jews being denied the right to immigrate to the Jewish state. Many have relatives here in Israel and seek family unification. These are the Falash Mura, who some centuries ago were baptized under extreme duress into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with tacit government approval. They maintained a Jewish identity and are desirous of conversion to Judaism. The Israeli parliament has approved this and allocated funds. But the Interior Ministry refuses to let them come to Israel. Many believe this due to prejudice and maybe even racism on the part of the Shas leadership against Ethiopian Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity.
Another example was reported just this week, when two teenagers
from South America who flew to Israel to visit their mother and stepfather were effectively deported. The mother married an Israeli and converted to Judaism. But Interior Ministry agents at the airport who interrogated her children would not let them enter the country. They were put on a plane back to South America after authorities claimed they were not convinced the teens would not remain in the country illegally. The mother in Israel protested and got legal help. She was about to take this to court when the Interior Ministry relented and accepted that the kids could visit. But it was too late, the teen’s vacation was over and a visit no longer possible. We regularly hear stories like this of people detained and put back on planes to go home without good reason.
Under pressure from several ultra-Orthodox parties, the government rescinded policies that would require more Orthodox Jews to be drafted into the Israeli army or do other forms of national service. They also refused to adopt policies that would reduce the number of Orthodox on welfare who refuse to work so as to study Talmud.
For all these reasons and more, many Jewish followers of Yeshua in Israel will think twice about voting for Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election. We like some of his policies, but are having a hard time knowing that a vote for him is a vote for the ultra-Orthodox.
Daniel Juster is Founding Director of the Tikkun America network of congregations. He has served in the Messianic Jewish movement since 1972.