New immigrants arriving at Ben Gurion Airport
New immigrants arriving at Ben Gurion AirportOlivier Fitoussi/IFCJ

Senior rabbis from the Religious-Zionist sector have written to Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, asking him to amend the Law of Return to exclude the so-called Grandchild Clause, which allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel and acquire citizenship with all the associated benefits, regardless of whether he or she is Jewish.

"We congratulate you and wish you the greatest of success in your mission of building up the Jewish People," the rabbis wrote. "The State of Israel was established as the home of the Jewish People. In order to bring the Jews of the world to the Land, the Law of Return was enacted. Meanwhile, Jewish tradition from generations back establishes clear and precise guidelines regarding who is considered to be Jewish.

"The Grandchild Clause has, over the years, become a clause that has ushered tens of thousands of non-Jews into the country, every single year," the rabbis continue. "The vast majority of them continue to adhere to and practice other religions. This is in total contradiction to the original purpose of the Law of Return. Therefore, we are calling on you to do your utmost to cancel this Grandchild Clause. May you go from strength to strength in acting for our people and our G-d."

Among the signatories are: Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, Rabbi Chaim Steiner, Rabbi Isser Klonsky, Rabbi Yaakov Filber, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, Rabbi Uri Cohen, Rabbi David Chai Hacohen, Rabbi Tzefanya Drori, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, and Rabbi Eitan Eisman.

The Religious Zionism party, headed by MK Bezalel Smotrich, and the two haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, all want to see the Grandchild Clause removed from the Law of Return, for the same reasons as those raised by the rabbis in their letter.

However, Likud MK Yuli Edelstein has argued that the Law of Return should be "left intact" and that "changing the law will lead to the country becoming a 'state of all its citizens' within the next five years." Former Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) concurred, saying, "The Law of Return must not be touched. Immigration from the former Soviet Union saved the country during the Yom Kippur War and led to huge advances in the professions."

The actual data on immigration from Eastern Europe paint a dramatic picture. In 1989, after the Iron Curtain fell, 93 percent of those immigrating to Israel were Jewish. Just four years later, that figure had dropped to 72 percent; by the turn of the century, less than half of those gaining citizenship via the Law of Return were Jewish.

Two years ago, in 2020, the number was down still further - just 28 percent of immigrants to Israel were Jewish. And of the refugees from both Russia and Ukraine arriving in the country since war broke out there, under a third are Jews.

Furthermore, over the entire 30-year period since immigration from the former Soviet bloc countries began, just 22 thousand non-Jewish immigrants to Israel have converted to Judaism, while each and every year, one-and-a-half times this number of non-Jews enters the country.