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Domestic Policy Judaism

The Jewish State and Law of Return

by Eleonora Poltinnikova-Shifrin

Ironically, the one law that was intended to make Israel a Jewish state is now undermining its Jewishness! That law, of course, is the Law of Return.

What makes this law subversive is the 1970 amendment known as the “grandfather clause”, according to which “the rights of a Jew… are also bestowed on a [non-Jewish] child and grand-child of a Jew”.

This allows hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish immigrants not only to enter Israel legally, but also to receive all the rights of Jews. Such immigrants immediately become full-fledged citizens with the right to vote and to receive the same financial benefits as Jewish olim. The non-Jews in question are not members of mixed families, many of whom may have made a conscious decision to join the Jewish people and share its destiny. I mean only those who do not have a single Jewish parent and have no commitment to become part of the Jewish people.

Adding these non-Jews to the burgeoning Arab minority constitutes an imminent threat to Israel’s Jewish majority.

The question arises: Why was the amendment introduced in 1970, when no threat existed to “quarter-Jews” anywhere in the world?

To answer this question we must first understand the difference between the words “immigrant” and “oleh“. The latter can only be applied to Jews returning, i.e. “ascending” to the Land of Israel. Conversely, a person who changes his place of residence from one country to another is simply called an “immigrant”. This is not a stigma, for it is what people are called when immigrating to America, Canada, or to other countries in the world. Only in Israel and only Jews are termed “oleh“, “ascending”, because this notion, derived from the Torah, denotes the spiritual ascendancy of a Jew who dutifully effectuates his sacred bond to the Land of Israel.

To see things in this light, one must view the Torah as G-d given and prescribing a unique way of life to which Jews should strive if they are to achieve intellectual and moral perfection and thereby fulfill their G-d given mission.

However, the founders of modern Israel did not see things this way. They created a secular socialist state with complete political equality for all its inhabitants, and they assumed that Jews would always remain an electoral majority. The flight of many Arabs during the War of Independence and the influx of almost a million Sephardi Jews in the early years of the State helped support this illusion for a number of years. But by the late sixties it was becoming increasingly transparent that the only growing sector among Israel’s Jews was the religious. This obviously threatened the secular parties with a loss of power. They saw that the only way to retain a Jewish but secular majority was to attract more newcomers from the USSR, where the Jews had been completely estranged from Jewish tradition, and where the intermarriage rate was extremely high, and which created enormous numbers of non-Jews of partial Jewish descent. The “grandfather clause” was introduced to exploit this development. This clause transformed the Law of Return into an immigration law allowing entrance to Israel of an almost uncontrollable number of non-Jews.

Now, every country in the world formulates its immigration policy on the basis of its internal interests and in accordance with its ultimate goals. Israel, however, has yet to define its national purpose. If its purpose is to become a state “like any other”, or a state “of its citizens”, then the Law of Return should be abolished altogether as discriminatory and be replaced with an immigration law simply banning the entrance of criminals, the chronically ill, individuals without professions, and others who constitute a financial and social burden for the state. This will sever Israel from the Jewish tradition and from world Jewry.

On the other hand, if Israel’s purpose is to become an authentic Jewish state whose laws are formulated by Jews on the basis of the Jewish heritage, then the Law of Return should apply solely to Jews and their immediate family. And even if we don’t touch the question of whether the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers can be considered Jewish, it should be obvious that no issue arises when there isn’t a single Jewish parent. Which means that the “grandfather clause” can be rescinded without deciding the issue of who is a Jew.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the Yamin Israel Party, no party in Israel dares to discuss the destructive impact of the present Law of Return on Israel’s Jewish character. Is anyone listening?

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