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Why the Law of Return must not be changed

Incoming coalition reportedly wants to cancel the “grandfather clause” which allows the grandchild of a Jew to immigrate to Israel

Illustrative - New immigrants from North America arrive on a special "Aliyah Flight" on behalf of Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, at Ben Gurion International Airport, Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo: Flash90)

Predictably, when political parties come into power they often seek, unwisely, to impose their agenda on every citizen.

Israel’s right-wing, religious parties don't plan to waste any time once they are soon in with the 25th Knesset. In fact, they’re going for the jugular this time – the Law of Return!

Just 10 days after the elections, and despite the fact that there is not even a finalized coalition, the Religious Zionism party and the ultra-Orthodox parties, have already stated as part of the coalition negotiations that they want to toughen the Law of Return. According to ALL ISRAEL NEWS, they want to cancel the “grandfather clause” which allows the grandchild of a Jew to immigrate to Israel.

This kind of change could prevent millions of Jews throughout the world from being eligible to immigrate to the Jewish homeland. 

The religious parties want to cut off the third generation of Israel, despite the Jewish state being established as a refuge for those who found themselves in peril because of their name, physical attributes or anything else that linked them to the Jewish people.

The irony is, when one thinks of religious individuals, there is an immediate association with those who aspire toward showing mercy, benevolence, compassion and justice; not so for these faithful zealots.  

For them, “being Jewish” stops in a single generation. After Jewish men have children with Gentile women, the blood of their grandchildren becomes too diluted, not authentic enough to merit the kind of protection that will be needed as anti-Semitism ramps up to a fever pitch – but what’s it to them?

Let’s say your American Jewish grandmother married a gentile. It’s likely one of your parents is Jewish but didn't attend a religious Jewish school or synagogue on a weekly basis. This means you are a third-generation partial Jew, who probably identifies with the culture, since you were likely to be circumcised, to have a bar mitzvah and to grow up celebrating at least some biblical and cultural holidays. 

Now that you’re a college student, you’ve come to notice that there is a huge amount of anti-Semitism being unashamedly expressed. In fact, you’re shocked to discover that Jew-free zones have been set up on your campus. Suddenly, you’re confronted with the dilemma of whether identifying even as a partial Jew is a smart thing to do.  

The above scenario is actually quite common in the U.S., which has seen one of the largest amounts of intermarriage of Jews since the 1960s. 

The Pew Research Center indicates that 44% of U.S. Jews have intermarried, including a whopping 58% of marriages since 2005. That represents more than half of all American Jews.  

Changing the Law of Return will immediately make the grandchildren of these Jews ineligible for citizenship in Israel, even though, ironically, they simultaneously could be prevented from accessing spaces now labeled as Jew-free zones. 

In other words, they are suffering persecution for an identity their own homeland refuses to recognize within them.

Given the very unfriendly atmosphere toward Jews – which is gaining strength among celebrities, politicians, academia, the progressive woke arm of the Democratic party and other special-interest groups – some of these young people might, for the first time, begin to explore their Jewish roots, and actually desire to return to their ancestral identity in a deeper and more meaningful way.  

Refusing them access to the only Jewish homeland on the planet will certainly not do anything to endear them to the State of Israel or cause them to embrace their people or faith – which should be an incentive for them to choose a different direction.

A change in the Law of Return is a clear message which lets these grandchildren know that they are unwanted and unwelcomed by the same people who claim to be the most righteous among us.

If you’re a bit confused at this point, wondering why the religious contingent of the Jewish homeland would not view the grandchildren of Jews’ desiring to immigrate to Israel as a positive development, here is the reason:  

In a recent radio interview, Knesset Member Uri Maklev of the religious party United Torah Judaism said, “We think that taking a family that has been living as distinctly Christian for two generations and saying that they are Jewish because they had a Jewish grandfather three generations back, is something that needs to be corrected.”

In other words, instead of looking at this kind of immigration as “a golden opportunity to convert the unconverted,” they see it as a negative – choosing to believe that unobservant, partial Jews would never be interested in moving closer to their Jewish roots, religion and culture. 

To them, there is no upside, or possibility of strengthening their ranks, in embracing these people; it is best to cut off these grandchildren rather than to identify the potentially great possibilities of welcoming them in.

Such an action screams of complete insecurity among the religious, who doubt their own faith and culture as being attractive or infectious. 

Closing the doors is an act of fear, suspicion and exclusivity, one which is totally lacking in mercy or generosity – two of the greatest attributes or hallmarks of most every faith-based individual.

One thoughtful response to this unconscionable demand to turn away the grandchildren of Jews who seek citizenship in Israel was made by One Million Lobby CEO Alex Rif, who referred to Maklev as being a “kidnapper of Israeli law.” 

In Rif’s response to Maklev, he said, “Your statements are full of ignorance – how long will we have false claims and accusations of Christianity? The vast majority of us have no other identity. We are Jews for all intents and purposes.” 

According to Rif, Maklev “is trying to cover up the truly significant failure of the Chief Rabbinate, which failed to open the gates of conversion in an inclusive way to 400,000 Russian-speaking Israelis, so that they would stop being second-class Israelis.” 

It is time that Israel as a whole, including the religious, realize that what we have is strong, vibrant, attractive and engaging. 

It beckons all mankind, because we have something to sell; and why shouldn’t it first be sold to the grandchildren of Jews, who, up ’til now, have had the right by law to enter into the Promised Land by virtue of their grandparents’ heritage?

Whoever wants to undo that law, which was wisely and compassionately attached to the original Law of Return of 1950, is no different than those who turned away boatloads of Jews, preventing them from arriving at safe shores, during a time when their security was in peril. 

Does anyone want such a heartless legacy attributed to them both on this Earth and in the world to come?

The Law of Return must not be changed, because to do so would be akin to preventing someone from being able to realize their full potential as a Jew, in every sense of the word. It is a cruel act, based in fear and the antithesis of someone who claims to be truly religious.

ALL ISRAEL NEWS is committed to fair and balanced coverage and analysis, and honored to publish a wide-range of opinions. That said, views expressed by guest columnists may not necessarily reflect the views of our staff.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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