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UK judge overturns Home Office decision on Israeli asylum seeker

Rabbinical student and conscientious objector allowed to remain in Britain over mental health concerns, and intends to press asylum claim - citing Israel's 'apartheid'
The 22-year-old rejects Zionism and Israel’s existence, and refuses to serve in the Israeli army based on his political beliefs and ultra-Orthodox Jewish faith (Reuters)

A UK judge has ruled that a 22-year-old Israeli seeking asylum in the UK, over fears he will be conscripted and forced to commit war crimes, would face "inhuman and degrading treatment" if he was returned to his home country.

In a decision handed down in late February, Judge John McClure said the rabbinical student, who has been granted an anonymity order, would likely suffer a "serious deterioration in his mental health" and has been granted leave to remain in the UK, which is subject to renewal.

The student and his lawyers have welcomed the ruling, which overturned a Home Office decision in December 2020, but said on Friday that the decision failed to address key aspects of their argument, and they have applied to appeal for his asylum at a higher tribunal. Namely, they said, the court had overlooked their argument that Israel is an apartheid state, a wider context that was critical to prompting the student to flee the country.

'I am saddened that it centred its decision around my mental health rather than the persecutory nature of Zionism'

- Israeli asylum seeker

"I am saddened that it centred its decision around my mental health rather than the persecutory nature of Zionism," the student said in a statement.

"My protesting against the state, my refusal to be conscripted, and the persecution I was subjected to by the Israeli authorities did not occur in a vacuum and must be viewed through the racist and oppressive structures of the state of Israel."

It is rare for a Jewish Israeli to seek asylum in the UK as a conscientious objector or otherwise, and, for this reason alone, the case is an unusual one. But if it moves into the Upper Tribunal, the case could set a legally binding precedent with the potential to impact future Palestinian and Israeli asylum cases.

'Damning findings'

The 22-year-old rejects Zionism and Israel’s existence based both on his political beliefs and his ultra-Orthodox Jewish faith, an interpretation of which teaches that Jews should not return en masse to the Holy Land until the return of the messiah.

His lawyers say he was beaten and spat on by Israeli police officers and also sprayed with skunk water for taking part in anti-Zionist protests, and he fled the country in 2017 after receiving a letter requiring him to report for military service.

Judge McClure's decision followed a four-hour hearing in October in Manchester. The Home Office argued that the student was not at risk of being conscripted because his father had applied for an exemption on the grounds his son had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. It also said that the student would be best served receiving treatment in Israel with the support of his family.

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The student's lawyers argued that there was no proof that their client's father had successfully applied for an exemption and no guarantee that a fresh conscription order wouldn't be issued if the student was deported to Israel. They also offered expert witness testimony suggesting the student could be treated as a deserter and imprisoned while his case was investigated.

In his decision, Judge McClure said he had not found that the student was entitled to asylum or humanitarian protection, but accepted that his religious and political beliefs were such that if he were returned to Israel, his mental state would deteriorate. If that happened, McClure found, drug therapy would not help the appellant to function "in any meaningful way… Such I find would be subjecting the appellant to inhuman and degrading treatment," he wrote.

The judge also noted that ultra-Orthodox Jews, like the student, are tolerated and permitted to live peacefully in Israel, apart from those who "involve themselves in disorderly and violent demonstrations" and those who refuse to "undertake national service".

Fahad Ansari, a solicitor with Riverway Law, which is representing the student, said he welcomed the tribunal's "damning findings" about Israel's maltreatment of its anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish population.

“The tribunal in particular recognised that our client was violently beaten for his opposition to being enlisted into the Israeli armed forces," he said.

Franck Magennis, a barrister with Garden Court Chambers, also representing the student, said the decision means his client will be "shielded from the many risks that Israel's apartheid regime poses to Jews who dare to criticise it.

“However, the tribunal could and should have gone further... Our client is now determined to exercise his right of appeal to a more senior tribunal, and will invite the judges there to make findings about the harmful and oppressive nature of Israeli apartheid.”

Several international and Israeli human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have in the past year concluded that Israel is an "apartheid state". The Israeli goverment denies the label, accusing the rights groups of antisemitism.