Eretz Yisrael Time

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Thursday, July 29, 2010
One of the cornerstones of Israeli law and society is the Law of Return. This is a law that is deeply grounded in the ethos of Israeli citizens.

The law enacted in 1950 gives Jews or anyone with a Jewish spouse or Jewish ancestor the right to move to Israel and acquire citizenship.

The law is not based on who is actually Jewish, but rather based on whoever would have been persecuted under the Nuremberg Laws.

In the 70’s, the question started to came up as to who is a Jew, and the law was amended to exclude people who converted to another religion (even though Judaism would still consider them Jewish – just failed Jews).

But that didn’t resolve the underlying question, and during the large scale immigration from the former USSR, many people moved to Israel who had only the most tenuous connection to the Jewish people, and that has caused some of the problems that the Rotem bill (which the Reform movement has tried to kill) was trying to fix.

The Law of Return, as it was originally formulated, was meant to be the legal framework for the state to facilitate the "Ingathering of the Exiles".

It was also supposed to be a response to the Nazis, to the British, and to whomever else banned the entry of Jews into their country when seeking refugee (including even into the Land of Israel) due to their Jewish ancestry (regardless if they were actually Jewish, or thought themselves such).

And that’s the problem.

This law is a combination of a refugee law and a citizenship law. In 1950 they didn’t understand that, because they were dealing with a set of different realities. But today, we are dealing with issues they probably didn’t foresee.

While there are calls from the Post-Zionists (and other Lefty groups) to abolish the Law of Return as they believe it prevents them from causing Israel to lose the “Jewish” in “Jewish Democratic”, those people have removed themselves from the national consensus.

I personally think the Law of Return needs to be amended and split in two (or three).

1. The actual “Law of Return” should state that citizenship can be granted to any Jew - as defined by Halacha.

 2. There should be a second “Law of Refuge” that states that anyone persecuted for their ancestral or familial relationship to Judaism (based on the Nuremberg Laws definition) may be granted refugee and residential status in Israel, but not automatic citizenship.

3. There possibly may be an additional category needed for existing nuclear family units, such as a spouse or children under 18, but not automatic citizenship. Not because we should accept these intermarried situations, but because it recognizes that this unfortunate, preexisting condition already exists.

Does this create a second class citizen in Israel?

No less than a Green Card does to a holder in the US.

In fact, we can call these refugees Yellow Card holders (providing the connection to the Nuremberg Laws).

And a Yellow Card holder could even get priority status in the process of converting properly in a recognized court and gaining full citizenship.

The Rotem Law could assist those refugees who wish to become Jews and gain full citizenship.

 If Israel is to remain a Jewish and Democratic state, then it needs to differentiate between those who have the right as Jews to become automatic citizens, while maintaining the moral ethos to provide refugee for those persecuted for their connection to Jews, while simultaneously providing an entry path into the Jewish nation – that is acceptable to all member of the Jewish people.


Michael Sedley said...

Your suggestion makes some sense (although I'd quibble over some of the details), but ignoring the reality that it has zero chance of being accepted, the change is about 20 years too late.

During the 90s the Jewish Agency actively sought out and encouraged non-Jews with some Jewish family connection to move to Israel. They did this partially because their funding was based on successful Aliya, and they realized that Halachic Jews were entitled to citizenship in Germany so they would be a more difficult sale.

Now that we have 3-500,000 non Jewish former Russian Israelis, changing the Law of Return will have only a limited effect, I would imagine that most Olim coming now are ideologically motivated and a much higher percentage of them are actually Jewish

Lurker said...

Michael Sedley: ...they realized that Halachic Jews were entitled to citizenship in Germany...

Does that mean that current German law defines "Who is a Jew", for purposes of citizenship eligibility, exclusively according to halakha? Where can I find more information about this?

Michael Sedley said...

Hey Lurker, I beleive that it's true (although I don't have a source).

To the best of my knowledge, Germany gives preference to people who have a letter from an Orthodox rabbi confirming that they are Jewish, while the Law of Return in Israel is based on the Neurenberg Law's definition of who is a jew.

Does anyone see any irony here?

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