Government Plans Tough New Policy on Citizenship, Immigration

A committee headed by Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz is formulating a new immigration policy for Israel that is expected to be as severe as any in Europe.

The most far-reaching proposal would prevent automatic citizenship for children of Israelis if the children were not born in Israel, or if only one parent is Israeli.

Among the proposed formulas under consideration is denying citizenship procedures to illegal aliens, and imposing criteria such as income, age and affiliation to Israel for citizenship applications, including foreign spouses of Israelis.

A discussion took place last month in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office on recommendations made by the National Security Council to stiffen immigration laws. The prime minister decided to accept the recommendations, and a committee headed by Pines-Paz was formed to formulate the changes in the law.

There is broad agreement in the government and academia that the policy must be strict and make it difficult for non-Jews to obtain citizenship in Israel.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz also supports a toughening of the immigration laws. A document drafted by a team headed by Mazuz recommends a lengthy "cooling off" period overseas for illegal aliens before they can become citizens.

Mazuz's document apparently served as the basis for the proposal by Likud lawmaker Moshe Kahalon, which passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset with government support last summer, and sparked a controversy.

"There are all sorts of countries in Europe," Pines-Paz said, adding that he will find a solution to deal with humanitarian hardship cases.

Among other things, Pines-Paz's committee will examine the possibility of changing the Law of Return, considered by many a taboo subject in Israeli politics.

The interior minister said the "mandate of the committee is to examine the Law of Return legislation, the Citizenship Law and all the laws regarding entry to Israel, including the Law of Return. Everything should be on the table."

In the past, some members of the committee have proposed amendments to the Law of Return.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livne has expressed support for canceling the grandchild clause in the law.

Pines-Paz said in 1999 that the grandchild clause should be reconsidered for cancelation.

Both support turning the Law of Return into a Basic Law, something that the Haredim have traditionally opposed with vehemence.

Former education minister Amnon Rubinstein, another member of the committee, supports broadening the Law of Return to include anyone who seeks to belong to the Jewish community.