The Law of Return Is Not the Problem

Recently voiced demands for changing the Law of Return focus on the wrong aspect of the issue of aliyah.

Recently voiced demands for changing the Law of Return focus on the wrong aspect of the issue of aliyah. On the one hand, the Law of Return is a central idea in Israel's character as the state of the Jewish nation, and at its root is an expression of the basic element of solidarity. On the other hand, by being an immigration law, it has built-in distinctions between different populations - not on the basis of economic or professional criteria (as is commonly accepted in immigration laws in most democracies), but on the basis of identity and solidarity.

The argument voiced recently is that there is a need to cancel or restrict the "grandchild clause" in the law, which grants the right to immigrate to Israel to anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent. As it stands now, it is argued, persons who have no real ties to the Jewish people are able to come to Israel. This is true, but the way of overcoming this is not by amending the Law of Return. Precisely because of its complex nature, any attempt to alter it may result in a situation in which the Knesset passes other amendments to the law that at this point no one wants.

The problem is not in the law but in the way it is implemented. The grandchild clause is justified: if someone discovers his Jewish background and wishes to be part of the nation of Israel in its sovereign country, he should be welcomed with open arms. However, today's reality is that the institutions dealing with immigration from the former Soviet Union (the Jewish Agency and Nativ) are doing something else. These organizations are actively searching for these grandchildren, undertaking active public relations among communities in the Russian periphery who are not motivated to search for their Jewish roots, and enticing them through promises that by immigrating they will be able to lift themselves from their difficult economic condition.

Most of the Jews who wanted to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States have already done so - most of them coming to Israel but many also going to the United States and Germany. Currently, most of the immigrants from these countries are not Jews, they are merely "entitled to aliyah," which means they are not Jewish according to any criteria. As such, the number of representatives of the aliyah-related institutions should be diminished because, in the absence of Jewish candidates for immigration, they make every effort - at times driven by demographic considerations - to find persons "entitled to aliyah" but who lack any form of Jewish identity.

Indeed, Jews must be encouraged to immigrate to Israel, but not those lacking real connections to the Jewish people. It should come as no surprise that some of the immigrants experience an identity crisis once in Israel, and some bring with them cultures of violence and human behavior that are normally not found in Jewish communities.

Israel needs to continue implementing the Law of Return, including the grandchild clause: whoever comes to an Israeli embassy and asks to immigrate - that is his right. But the search for offspring of Jews should cease, and so should the doling out of all sorts of promises that bring people to Israel for whom the Law of Return was not intended.

Toward this end, there is a need for a government decision which will change the policy and instruct the Jewish Agency and other organizations to operate according to the inherent logic of the Law of Return: Jewish solidarity yes; useless efforts to find Jews in places where they do not exist, no.

A similarly courageous decision could also be made in the case of the Falashmura, who are clearly not Jewish since they need to undergo conversion in Israel and arrive here within the parameters of family reunification (part of the Law of Entry into Israel), and not on the basis of the Law of Return. It is a serious mistake, both from a human and a national point of view, to think that bringing groups that are not Jewish will strengthen the State of Israel. On the contrary: it weakens its character as a state for the Jewish nation.

In parallel, the government would be well advised to set an annual quota for immigrants escaping crises, such as the refugees from Darfur, so that Israel will be loyal to both Jewish and universal values that require the offering of assistance to persecuted groups.

So far these matters - that are interconnected - have been dealt with separately and specifically by different organizations, and usually in response to ongoing developments. What is needed is an integrated government discussion on the principles of all of these issues.

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