Jonathan Bailey
Retired US Army Officer and Author

The first circle of hell

Totalitarian regimes tend to follow a fairly standard program in their efforts to destroy free and open societies. Hitler conscripted armies of scientists to collect swastikas from all over the world in order to bolster a false narrative about blondes from the north pole ruling the world of prehistory. The first labor union he ever took control of was the teachers’ union. All the more power to control future generations by poisoning the thoughts of children. It goes without saying that any movement of evil is going to need to control the politicians and bureaucracies. And who could ignore the efforts of totalitarian regimes such as China or North Korea in their efforts to control information flow by owning the media and engaging in massive censorship campaigns? But one often overlooks the tendency of such empires of evil to control travel. Stalin used to regularly imprison people simply for having been abroad, even if that travel was fighting for the fatherland against the Nazis. Such was the subject of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel “The First Circle,” the title a reference to Dante’s first level of hell.

With the above introduction behind us, I’d like to tell you that I was recently deported from Israel upon arrival in Israel at the Ben Gurion Airport for telling someone that I wanted to convert to Judaism. I’m not kidding. You’re not dreaming. This really happened.

I am a US passport holder and American citizen with permanent residency in Mexico. I am a medically retired military officer and financially stable. I have no criminal record. I am in good health, to include meeting all the new COVID standards. I’ve been on quite a spiritual journey the last couple of years, having studied Kabbalah with some intensity throughout that time. In September I left Mexico to fly to Spain to look for a publisher for a novel I’d written, and while there sought a visa to enter Israel to visit my rabbi and some friends in Safed. The consulate in Madrid was basically non-functional. Then I shot over to Belgrade to visit a friend of mine here and again work with the consulate about a visa to Israel. I found the phone lines inoperable and the e-mail inbox to be full. While in Belgrade, Israel opened its borders for 90-day entry without prior visa, a program that US passport holders enjoy. At my wits end, I decided to just go to Israel to visit my rabbi and take things from there.

At the airport I was interviewed by a border control officer who asked me why I was going to Israel, and I stated I was going to Safed, mentioning that I was interested in converting to Judaism. From there everything went downhill. I was asked a series of leading questions about converting to Judaism, how long it takes, etc. The officer called my rabbi to verify my statements. It was 11:30 at night. This itself bespeaks a profound lack of respect on the part of the border control officer. It was determined that a simple mention of the fact that I might have some interest in staying in Israel long-term was grounds for deportation as an illegal immigration risk.

Upon my deportation, I was flown to the wrong country without my bags. I paid my own hotel and flight back to Belgrade, and am still awaiting the arrival of my luggage. The experience of being deported is so dehumanizing that few would ever even want to return. It involved seeing all the incompetence and hearing all the lies of the border control agents who told me my bags were on the plane and that I would be flown back to where I came from.

Of course, the agents never made any assessment of my being an illegal immigration risk. No one asked me what I would do if I decided to stay longer than 90 days and were not able to do so. No one assessed the probability of the Ministry of the Interior granting me a longer-term visa if I did initiate the conversion process. Again, simply stating a possibility of a long-term stay in Israel was considered grounds for deportation.

The irrationality of this decision-making process makes the presence of a hidden agenda completely obvious. In line with the discussion of the totalitarian regimes mentioned in the first paragraph, I would like to say that a totalitarian regime is always going to reject the presence of those who love a nation as an expression of something holy. Obviously, I ran into some border control agents who hate the religion of Judaism and anyone who wants to partake in it. The idea that Israel is something unique and divine, and that Jews are chosen for a special destiny, is a threat to the dark forces that inspire totalitarian regimes. So in addition to controlling politicians, teachers, scientists, and media sources, these forces also have to control your borders.

What happened to me seems to factor in with a variety of disturbing trends that I observe affecting the world in general, but in Israel they are rearing their heads with particular vehemence. This deportation I have experienced may just have motivated me to make a point of communicating about these issues in a grander fashion than I may otherwise have considered doing. I am happy to submit my first blog to the Times of Israel.

About the Author
I am a medically retired Army Captain who has taken to blogging and writing. While not Jewish myself, I majored in Jewish Studies in college, have studied Hebrew at various points in life, was trained in Arabic and Russian by the US Army, and lived in Israel in 2018 and 2019. All for diverse and apparently unrelated reasons. For the last couple of years I have been a relatively dedicated student of Kabbalah. Recently I have discovered that I have 0.3% Ashkenazi DNA from various DNA tests. As such, Israel and Judaism are topics of interest for me.
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