'The Law of Return was only intended to bring Jews to Israel'

MK Smotrich defends his proposed amendment to the Law of Return, pushing back on criticism from Yisrael Beytenu.

MK Bezalel Smotrich ,

בצלאל סמוטריץ'
בצלאל סמוטריץ'
Photo by Sraya Diamant/Flash90

I am proposing an amendment in the Knesset today, God willing, to cancel the ‘grandchild clause’ in the Law of Return.

The incessant and hypocritical attacks made by Lieberman and friends are a classic example of brainwashing. These lies are an attempt to establish an unfounded narrative, in order to promote their dangerous, damaging agenda.

Lieberman is lying again, defining the proposed change as no less than the annulment of the Law of Return. As you’ll see, my proposal may annul the many non-Jewish mandates that Lieberman’s party receives, but it is not at all a cancellation of the law.

Mention of Hitler and the Nazi race laws is no more than cheap demagoguery, and a shameful misuse of the Holocaust - in order to damage the Jewish nature of the state, and flood it with people who have no connection to Judaism and the Jewish state.
Let me say, first: The large aliyah from the former USSR is an incredible, historic occasion. The miracle of ingathering the exiles is happening before our eyes. We love these immigrants and are thrilled to have them here. Most of them are rabinically recognized as Jews, and those who - because of the complications of our long, cursed exile - are not Jewish but are here already, must be embraced with love into the Jewish nation and undergo rabbinical conversion.
The ‘grandchild clause’ that was introduced to the Law of Return in 1970 had absolutely no connection to the Nuremberg Laws. Search the Knesset annals, speeches in the committees and plenum debates, and you won’t find any mention. The numerous High Court decisions dealing with the rationale of bringing hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were not Jewish, do not mention this anywhere. I’ll explain later what this amendment was intended to do, why it is dangerous and demands adjusting now.

But first, where did this story originate? It was simply made up by Amnon Rubinstein, who served as a Member of Knesset at the time of its proposal - and he decided this was the reason.

In the ‘90s, with the incredible immigration from the USSR, and in order to justify bringing hundreds of thousands of non-Jews together with the one million Jews who made aliyah, this rationale - basing on the Nazi race-laws - took over. It was simply meant to make it uncomfortable to question the decision. From here, it’s a short path to demagogic claims.
We bear the responsibility of the future of the Jewish people. For our future existence. That’s the whole story. Nothing less. The State of Israel cannot allow itself high percentages of assimilation, like the United States and Europe. Today there are over 300,000 immigrants who are not Jewish, and sadly the majority do not undergo conversion. If we continue to bring non-Jewish immigrants, with no connection to Judaism except the grandchild clause, we are likely to create serious assimilation in generations to come - endangering the future of the Jewish nation and negating the Jewish majority and nature of this state.
Now look, at the beginning of the ‘90s with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the immigration of Russian Jewry, the grandfather clause could be somewhat understood. Generations of Jews, assimilated under duress of a Communist dictatorship declaring outright war against Judaism - these people felt a true connection to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. They were part of the first waves of aliyah, received here with love and open arms. It’s important to convert them today, to complete the process for becoming rabbinically recognized Jews in order to protect against assimilation.

Today, thirty years after the Iron Curtain fell, we can say with much certainty that those who’ve felt a true connection to the Jewish people, those who desired to immigrate to the Jewish state with Zionist intentions, have already done so. Today, immigration has economic motives, with little or no connection to Judaism or Zionist values.
Those who see Judaism as cultural folklore, who see assimilation in the Jewish sense as no big deal - they can treat the grandchild clause as a convenient way to import mandates for their political party - one that rejects the Jewish character of the state. That’s what the ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ party has done for years in the Ministry of Immigration.

For those whose Judaism is a religious concept with deep historical value, those who feel a responsibility as part of the long chain of generations of our Jewish people - they must understand that this clause endangers the future of the Jewish nation’s rebirth in our land.

Using Nazi and Holocaust imagery cannot hide this, nor can the demagogic reference to military service. Military service is important but it does not make someone Jewish, and it doesn’t mitigate the danger of assimilation. We can bring millions of non-Jews to Israel who are gladly willing to become Israeli and serve in the military. This might sound like a good argument, it rings humane and moral, but it is also cheap, populist and devastating to the Jewish nation and our Jewish state.

There’s a broad consensus for annulment of the grandfather clause. Tzipi Livni on the left supported this change, as did leaders of the Gavison-Medan pact and many others. Not religious or ultra-religious people. Responsible leaders who simply felt the weight of responsibility for the future of our Jewish people, who understood that assimilation would devastate our nation.

For years we have dealt with quick fixes to circumvent this problem, trying to find solutions for immigrants here, who are not Jewish. It’s high time we fix the cracks and stop the breach.
If you have the patience for some historic background and a deeper understanding - you’re invited to read on.

In 1950 the Law of Return was established. It stated that ‘every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh’. At the same time, Ben Gurion refused to define who is a Jew, and he refused to relate to the status of non-Jewish family members. He had bigger things to worry about, and the issue of non-Jewish immigrants at that time was purely theoretical. (What non-Jews would want to immigrate to Israel in 1950?)

In 1970 the law was amended, defining a Jew as someone whose mother was Jewish or who underwent conversion (this is the halachic, or rabbinic, definition). At the same time, it established families of Jews, including spouses, children and grandchildren eligible to return (Para. 4).

Why were grandchildren included in the amendment? Today, people tend to quote Prof Amnon Rubinstein who explained that this was meant to correct the race-laws of the Nazi regime (Nuremberg Laws).

Except that.. as we’ve said, this is not found anywhere in the Knesset debates. With respect to Prof Rubinstein, the Israeli legislative has never connected the immigration of non-Jewish family members with the Nazi laws. Quite the opposite - read the Knesset debates for yourself and see that the very use of comparison to the Nazi laws was seen as an insult.

I invite my naysayers and anyone with a historic source that says otherwise, to share it with me.

So what’s the real story? Prime Minister Golda Meir explained that she was quite worried about the level of assimilation and mixed marriages in the diaspora, reaching then… 20%. Today, that number has jumped to above 50%. Golda said that those non-Jewish families of Jewish people should be allowed to immigrate to Israel…. if they convert. Yes, Golda Meir quite specifically stated that she expects non-Jewish family members who make aliyah, to convert in Israel (Knesset debate, February 10, 1970).

Golda Meir and her non-religious cohorts, from the central and left of the political map, could not imagine that in 2020 the State of Israel would be so attractive that hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish people would want to immigrate - and would take advantage of the Law of Return to get here. With no desire to convert and no real Zionist conviction. Despite their progressive image, these Zionist leaders did not imagine opening the Jewish state to those who were no Jewish. They understood the obvious: the repercussions would be mass assimilation and grave danger to the future of the Jewish people.

By the way, we are in no way rejecting non-Jews. Non-Jewish people without an inherent connection and who want to enter Israel are welcome to come under the law that is meant for them: The ‘Entry into Israel’ Law. This law contains a classification of entry permits, with the need to ‘prove seriousness’ before becoming naturalized citizens. This is different from the Law of Return, that gives Jewish people automatic entry and citizenship. Yes, for Jews.

Amending the grandchild clause will not prevent family members of Jews who do feel a connection to Judaism and the State of Israel, from immigrating under the Law of Return. They will simply have to prove seriousness and to convert under the law, before moving to Israel as Jews in every sense. Those who demand that non-Jews be allowed to immigrate to Israel without converting, are simply denying the rabbinic basis of Judaism - encouraging assimilation and the end of the Jewish nation.
The complexities of our long, devastating diaspora have certainly created challenges and extraordinary circumstances. These have been addressed in the first generations and further, with the option of converting and ‘making aliyah’ as Jews. Our history has, perhaps, justified extending the Right of Return, as seen - bringing with it today’s need for their conversion. But it absolutely does not justify treating the very future of the Jewish people irresponsibly.
So, my friends, it’s time to amend the law and return to its intended purpose: The law to bring Jews home to the Land of Israel.