Dr. Gene Berkovich spoke to the Israel Heritage Foundation Arutz Sheva event in Manhattan to give his take, as a Russian Jew, on Israel’s Law of Return.
“The law of return was introduced, to the best of my knowledge in 1950, and entitled the Jews and descendants of Jews to come to Israel. The intention of the law was to reunite families. Others say it was actually to offer a shelter to all those who could have been persecuted under Hitler, which is very questionable as that means the Nuremberg Laws define who can immigrate to Israel. Some some say that the secular politicians put the law in place in order to decrease the percentage of Arabs and to address the concerns of growing population in the 1970s.”
“What's called the grandfather clause [added to the law years later, ed.] enabled grandchildren of Jews and their non-Jewish spouses and non-Jewish children to come to Israel without any problems, so I want to take a look at this law. Unfortunately, it has received a lot of undue criticism and I want to give my unique perspective as a Jew from the former Soviet Union. A lot of the criticism that the law gets is that if the clause is repealed, it will prevent a lot of American Jews who want to come to Israel from doing so. Let's let the numbers speak for themselves: In the years that the law has been in existence, only 67 applicants were from the United States, out of tens of thousands who came to Israel under that clause. The vast majority of Jews who want to come from the United States are Orthodox, and their background is not in question.
“Jews coming from the United States to Israel usually have no ulterior motives, no financial or any other materialistic or logistical reasons to come to Israel. They come there purely because they want to be part of Jewish people in Israel. That actually goes also for people who are not necessarily Jewish, but they do have some Jewish heritage.”
“The majority of people who come from former Soviet Union are not Jewish by any stretch of the imagination. Most are coming for economic reasons. Some come to have an Israeli passport, which allows them to travel more freely than a Russian one. Israel is rapidly becoming known as a haven for Russian Jewish criminals.”
“Another problem is intermarriage, a danger warned about as far back as the Bible. It has been estimated that the percentage of Jews in the state of Israel falls by approximately one percent over every three years, and it has fallen by approximately 10 percent over the past 30 years - from 84 percent to about 73. The Bible warns that intermarriage leads to assimilation, increased sinning, and the dilution of the nation.
“A third problem - discrimination. From my own conversations and observing Israeli media, there is a trend that non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union view Sephardic and Moroccan Jews as inferior. The same is true for Ethiopian Jews, and there is a special disgust reserved for haredim as well. The hatred I hear is very reminiscent of the hatred we faced in my old country.”
“These problems are our problems as well, for American Jews. The Israeli Rabbinate is suspicious, and refuses to recognize conversions by esteemed and reputable rabbis in North America. When Soviet non-Jews began faking documents, they gave rise to this situation, and now even those from respected congregations must have every document thoroughly checked. Some conversions are completely discounted, despite having been valid.”
“Mass immigration of non-Jews to Israel is a counter-argument that is frequently made about the clause This ignores the benefits of immigrant Jews who serve in the IDF and join the economy, and at any rate, could apply to French or American Jews as well. The political left, which has criticized the attempts to repeal the clause in the Law of Return, should care about three main things: Israel’s growing status as a criminal haven, the difficulties of immigration from the USA, and how an Arab, who has lived here only seven generations, has more right to live here than a Jew, who is descended from thousands of generations. The clause is detrimental, and must be repealed.”