Panel in Charge of Reviewing Law of Return 'Too Homogenous'

Makeup of Interior Ministry's Ne'eman commission allegedly discriminates against women, Mizrahim, Arabs.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit should revise the makeup of the Ne'eman committee charged with studying changes in Israel's immigration policies, say 21 human rights groups. The groups' representatives argue that the committee's membership discriminates against women, Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern descent), immigrants, Arabs and others.

Two weeks ago, the cabinet approved Sheetrit's establishment of the committee, headed by former finance minister Ya'akov Ne'eman, to examine possible changes in the Law of Return, as well as study the recommendations of a committee established four years ago for the same purpose, which have not been implemented.

The committee was established in light of the fact that 300,000 non-Jews have immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union in recent years, and there are believed to be some 200,000-300,000 illegal residents here.

The committee includes former Education Minister Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, attorney Jacob Weinroth, professor Yaffa Zilbershats and Udi Praver of the Prime Minister's Office. "The homogenous nature of the committee's make-up cannot be ignored," Attorneys Reut Michaeli of the Israel Religious Action Center and Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote Sheetrit, noting the absence of immigrants, that all are Ashkenazi Jews, and four of the five are men, three of whom are Orthodox. They also noted that it is difficult to expect the deliberations of such a committee "to reflect the real disputes in Israeli society on the matter of immigration."

Sheetrit's media advisor, Ilan Marciano, responded that the cabinet approved the committee, and Sheetrit was confident they would make the best recommendations for the country, "recommendations essential at this time."