Opinion |

Preferring the Evangelicals Over World Jewry

The new nation-state law might mean the prevention of immigration by anyone not Jewish based on Jewish law – something that reflects the influence of evangelical Christianity

Uri Huppert
Uri Huppert
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A rally for Israel organized by the International Christian Embassy, 2015.
A rally for Israel organized by the International Christian Embassy, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Uri Huppert
Uri Huppert

In late 1969, the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, ruled that the baby born to a Jewish navy officer and his British wife would be registered as Jewish, based on the view that Jewishness from a national perspective is not the same as Jewishness based on the Talmud – Jewish law following Ezra and Nehemiah. The Supreme Court ruled that a child whose father was a Jew was a Jew as far as the Population Registry was concerned.

The religious parties, led by the National Religious Party, threatened to break up the governing coalition. Golda Meir, the prime minister at the time, gave in to the pressure and in early 1970 Knesset members began legislating a new version of the Law of Return, which stated that only someone whose mother was Jewish would be allowed to immigrate, thus basing Jewishness on Jewish law.

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The bill, once it passed its second vote in the full Knesset, led to a protest that many people joined at the initiative of the League Against Religious Coercion in Israel. The peak was a demonstration by thousands in February 1970 that reached the gates of the Knesset. Reform Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin, author Dahn Ben-Amotz and Shalom Cohen, a representative of news weekly Haolam Hazeh, took part.

The main claim was that the State of Israel is meant to serve as a refuge for any persecuted Jew. Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws from 1935 defined Jewishness based on the father’s side as well. At the demonstration, the claim was made that if Israel had been founded in 1938 – not 1948 – and if the religious parties’ opinion held sway, hundreds of thousands more Jews would have been sentenced to death at Auschwitz.

This protest convinced Meir to ask for the advice of her justice minister, Ya’akov Shimshon Shapira, who forced the religious parties to accept a stipulation saying that anyone defined as a Jew by the Nazis (except those who had converted to another religion) would be granted Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return and receive the benefits granted to new Jewish immigrants. But to keep the peace within the coalition, they would not be recognized as Jews!

This applies to some 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union; they have Israeli citizenship but are not recognized as Jews. Thus, people who are Jews based on the Bible – from the seed of Abraham – have been left behind. Soon enough, the achievement of the League Against Religious Coercion enabled the mass immigration from behind the Iron Curtain.

The current nation-state law revokes a section of the Law of Return in stating that the state “will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles.” This law is a Basic Law and cannot be amended without a special majority in the Knesset. Saying that “Jewish immigration” is ensured means preventing immigration by anyone not Jewish based on Jewish law.

Thus, the modest achievement that enabled the mass immigration from Europe has been erased along with the aliyah of unique groups such as Ethiopian Jews and the Karaites, whose roots are determined based on the biblical test – of being from the seed of Abraham. Reform Jews too, whose Jewishness is determined by the origin of the father or mother, and whose conversions are not accepted by the Orthodox Rabbinate, will not be allowed to immigrate.

>> Read more: Israel’s Unholy and Transient Alliance With U.S. Evangelicals | Editorial

By emphasizing that "Jewish immigration" will be encouraged, the nation-state law cancels the section of the Law of Return from 1970, which was achieved through tremendous struggle in the name of the far-flung Jews. The wording of the nation-state law reverses the achievements of the struggle over “who is a Jew” and who is entitled to make aliyah and receive equal rights. It surrenders to the 1970 proposal by the National Religious Party that the Knesset rejected.

Someone observing what Israeli politicians are cooking up could understand that the support of the evangelical Christians is preferable to a dialogue with the Jews of the United States. Relying on the messianism in Israel along with that of the evangelicals has blinded the country’s leaders who are consciously deepening the rift with world Jewry. Is the blindness paralyzing us at the moment nothing but a disastrous repeat of the disgrace of the messianism of Sabbatai Zevi of the 17th century and Jacob Frank of the 18th?

Isn’t it amazing that we have erased from the national memory the blood that was spilled by the Crusaders, who on their way to Jerusalem murdered multitudes of Jews? Today Israel’s leaders are standing at the head of crusades by evangelical Christianity. With a high degree of certainty it can be assumed that the dependence on the evangelicals – and not on world Jewry – is what guided those who legislated the nation-state law with all its deceits.

Dr. Uri Huppert, an attorney, is a former chairman of the League Against Religious Coercion in Israel.

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