The Ministry of Interior refuses to grant Israeli citizenship to the foreign spouse of an Israeli due to activity on Facebook

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A sign at the Ministry of the Interior/Ministry of Immigrant Absorption at the Government Village, Haifa. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When Dana (pseudonym used for reasons of privacy) was told an appointment was scheduled for her at the Bureau of the Population Authority, she was thrilled to her very core. Dana, a US citizen, was confident she was about to receive Israeli citizenship as the spouse of an Israeli citizen. Dana and her husband, David, lived in Israel for seven years, raising three children together. The couple had cooperated with all Ministry of Interior requirements over the course of the gradual procedure for obtaining a status in Israel for a foreign citizen married to an Israeli. There was no doubt about the sincerity of their relationship or other suspicion that the couple was aware of, so Dana expected nothing but the successful completion of the procedure.

But just as her heart soared, the bureaucracy brought it crashing down again. Ministry of Interior officials informed Dana that they had information that she shared and liked Facebook posts related to a Jewish-Messianic community. This caused MoI to suspect that she is a missionary, so she was denied her application to become an Israeli citizen. Instead of citizenship, Dana would have to settle for the status of a “permanent resident”. 

Second class Israelis 

What is the main difference between permanent resident status and Israeli citizenship? The main distinction is that permanent residency can expire due to prolonged residence outside of Israel, and permanent residents are not eligible to vote in the Knesset elections. But beyond the legal differences, there was also the matter of insulting discrimination, relegation to the status of a second glass citizen.  

Dana’s husband, a Jewish citizen who was born in Israel and an IDF veteran, was determined to fight for the couple’s rights, so the two decided to take legal action.

Is a “like” on a Facebook page considered prohibited missionary activity?

Those who are unfamiliar with the Israeli Ministry of Interior attitude towards Messianic Jewish community members immigrating to Israel will surely find it difficult to understand how activity on Facebook in the virtual world can cause so many real-world problems. In point of fact, there are organizations that stalk suspected Messianic Jews across social networks, seeking compromising materials and opportunities to cause harm. The Ministry of the Interior in Israel does not hesitate to use the information gained by these organizations, sometimes without any legal basis.

Israeli laws on immigration and status do not justify denying citizenship to a foreign spouse married to an Israeli under these circumstances. If the relationship in question was suspect, or the center of the couple’s life not in Israel, or if the foreign spouse had a criminal record, then the Interior Ministry would have cause for its denial Israeli citizenship, but that was certainly not the case for Dana and her husband.

Does liking a Facebook page constitute a banned missionary activity in Israel? It most certainly does not. Freedom of expression is a protected right in every democratic state, including Israel. The Basic Laws and the Declaration of Independence prohibit discrimination against other religions and establish the right of minorities to equality as well as the freedom of belief and conscience. 

The Supreme Court in Israel explicitly ruled that being a Messianic Jew cannot be grounds for denying a citizenship application for a foreign spouse to an Israeli citizen. Immigration courts judgments have often stated that there is no connection between the religious belief of the foreign spouse who has entered a process of family reunification, and legal status in Israel.

Intentional ignorance on the part of the Ministry of Interior

Despite various court rulings on the granting of legal status to foreign spouses of Israelis who are discriminated against on the basis of their faith, Interior Ministry employees consistently obstruct immigration to Israel for anyone with Messianic or Christian beliefs.

The right of an Israeli citizen to marry a foreign citizen and grant her Israeli citizenship – Appeal to the Israeli Immigration Tribunal 

Our office applied to the Interior Ministry on Dana’s behalf, submitting an internal appeal. The appeal requested that she be granted Israeli citizenship without delay, based on the Citizenship Law. In said appeal letter we explained the mistake made by Interior Ministry officials and the unreasonableness of the decision.

The couple’s disappointment continued after the Ministry of Interior failed to provide a response. The appeal letter was ignored. With no choice, the couple urged us to launch an appeal via the Appeals Tribunal, which deals with immigration to Israel according to the Entry into Israel Law. 

The appeals court had set a date for hearing the case, but the Interior Ministry’s legal bureau did not file a reply to the claim. In fact, six months went without the MoI ever contacting us or the couple, even though the court ordered the Ministry to respond within 30 days.

Israeli citizenship by law and by right

Finally, just days before the scheduled hearing date, the Interior Ministry’s legal bureau contacted the couple, announcing that the Interior Ministry decided to grant Dana citizenship, so the scheduled hearing should be cancelled. Due to the unexplained delay in their response, the Interior Ministry was required by the Judge of the Tribunal to pay court expenses of NIS 4000. At the end of this arbitrary and unnecessary legal battle, Dana could swear allegiance to the State of Israel and gain Israeli citizenship.