Law of Return to Refocus on Jews

A special committee has been created to amend Israel's Law of Return, shoring up Israel's Jewish demographic and thwarting non-Jewish citizenship.

Malkah Fleisher ,

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit
Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit
Israel News Photo: (archive)

Spurred by concerns over the acceptance of hundreds of thousands of non-Jews as citizens of Israel over the course of Israel's 60-year history, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit has established a special committee to discuss amendment of Israel's Law of Return. 

On July 5, 1950, Israel's Knesset enacted the Law of Return, declaring Israel to be the homeland of all Jews, both in Israel and abroad.  As part of the law, rights were given to all born Jews (having a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother), those with Jewish ancestry (having a Jewish father, grandfather, or paternal grandmother), and converts (Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, with Conservative or Reform conversions taking place outside of Israel) to obtain citizenship in Israel.

MK Sheetrit (Kadima) told the new committee at a Sunday meeting that the law has been abused by non-Jews with no connection to Judaism as a way to obtain Israeli citizenship.  The minister cited statistics showing that 30 percent of Eilat residents are not Jewish according to Torah law.  "If we do not discuss these issues with urgency," Sheetrit told committee members, "in a few years Israel will no longer be the state of the Jews, and I do not want that."

Headed by Professor Yaakov Ne'eman, the special committee – which will meet weekly - is comprised of top legal experts on immigration, and will propose legislation to amend the Law of Return.  Ne'eman is a top Israeli tax attorney, former Minister of Finance under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and current head of the Likud party coalition negotiation team.

One of the alternative amendments would give new immigrants resident status upon arrival in Israel.  After proving ties to the Jewish people, loyalty to Israel, and a level of proficiency in Hebrew, residents could receive Israeli citizenship.

In line with the platform of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party, Sheetrit said all citizens should be required to take an oath of loyalty to Israel.  He cited recent legislation in Holland which took effect after a wave of Muslim immigration threatened the cultural identity of the country.

The effort will also seek to limit the number of regional Arabs allowed into Israel through marriage to Israeli Arabs and employment as workers.

According to recent Interior Ministry data, approximately 1 million illegal immigrants currently reside in Israel.  Among them are 25,000 African infiltrators (only 600 of which are refugees from Darfur), tens of thousands of Palestinian Authority Arab women married to resident Israeli Bedouins,16,000 Arab women receiving Israeli welfare stipends while residing in Judea and Samaria, and 46,000 non-Jewish Ethiopians.

The committee will consult with experts from a previous committee headed by Professor Amnon Rubenstein of the extreme leftist Meretz party.