Yemeni refugee ‘taxed’ in Israel for Torah scroll

The Yemenis and the Egyptians let a Yemeni Jew travel freely with a Torah scroll – but not so the Israeli customs service, who imposed a tax as Yosef Hamadi arrived at Ben Gurion airport. The unsung hero in this wretched tale of mindless bureaucratic pedantry is civil servant Gilad Mizrahi, who paid the fine out of his own pocket. Report in Ynet News:

Hamadi somehow managed to reach Gilad Mizrahi, an advisor to Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, and ask for his help. Following a series of talks, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry provided the longed-for permit, and the Customs Office agreed to release the book for NIS 7,200 in value added tax.

Last Monday, after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, Hamadi innocently walked through the Green Channel, as who would have thought that in order to bring a Torah scroll into Israel one would have to pay NIS 7,200 (about $2,050)?

The Customs officers confiscated the Torah scroll and told the shocked immigrants that he would need a permit from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to bring it into the country.

“Please let me bring the Torah scroll in,” the man begged. “I want to pray with it on Tisha B’Av.” But his pleas were ignored.

Last Thursday, Mizrahi paid the money out of his own pocket, received the book and handed it over to the Yemeni immigrant.

“There are three more Torah scrolls we want to rescue from Yemen, but with such an attitude it might be better to leave them there,” Hamadi said angrily. “The Muslims treated this item as the word of God, and in Israel of all places it was confiscated. Israelis shouldn’t be surprised that Yemen’s Jews prefer not to immigrate to Israel.”

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  • You are technically right, Michelle, the money was VAT tax, not a fine. But whatever you call it does not make a difference to the poor Yemenite, who probably does not have two shekels to rub together, and customs should have shown more sensitivity in this case.
    The word 'fine' was used by Ynet in their heading, in hindsight not the best term.

  • oops!
    The Ynet article quotes the Customs Office that the $ was a tax and not a fine.
    The Customs Office said in response that although the immigrant failed to declare the Torah scroll, no action was taken to confiscate it and no fines were imposed.
    Categorizing the $ makes a difference to the Customs Office.


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