Former Prisoner of Zion Rabbi Yosef Mendelevitch, a Soviet Jewish refusenik jailed for 11 years who rose to prominence as a Jewish activist in the 1960s, urged the incoming Netanyahu government to adopt plans put forth by the Religious Right to amend Israel’s Law of Return, removing the Grandfather Clause.
Ever since the Law of Return was amended in 1970, Israel has granted citizenship to immigrants with at least one Jewish grandparent, as well as the non-Jewish spouses of Jews.
Speaking with Israel National News, Rabbi Mendelevitch said that a group of fellow former refuseniks resolved last year to lobby for tightening Israel’s immigration laws.
“More than a year ago, more than 500 former Prisoners of Zion and refuseniks came together here in Jerusalem and we made a decision to call upon our government to stop using the pretext of bringing in non-Jews since they are the grandchildren of Jews.”
“You can imagine what kind of a Jew [this is]. His grandfather maybe a hundred years ago married a non-Jewish wife, and then [his non-Jewish father] married somebody not Jewish. What is the connection of this third generation to Am Yisrael [the Jewish people]?”
An educator who worked for over thirty years at the Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Rabbi Mendelevitch cited his experience in working with non-Jewish immigrants interested in converting to Judaism, arguing that only a minority of non-Jews immigrating under the Law of Return are interested in conversion.
“The majority is not coming [to conversion programs], is not interested to convert.”
Many such immigrants today, Rabbi Mendelevitch continued, are merely taking advantage of the opportunity to gain citizenship in a modern Westernized country, offering them a way out of Eastern Europe – an important factor driving many immigrants from both Ukraine and Russia in 2022.
Some, he claimed, not only have little to no ties to Judaism but preach openly anti-Israel or even antisemitic beliefs, noting the formation of large Facebook groups of Eastern European immigrants to Israel where antisemitic dialogue thrives.
“Sometimes I am reading, in Russian, terrible things, not only against religion, [but] simply against Am Yisrael [the Jewish people]. They are people who just used the pretext to escape Russia.”
While Rabbi Mendelevitch has called for an end to the 1970 amendment to the Law of Return, he added that Israel should offer some legal status to non-Jewish migrants with Jewish ancestry, on a case-by-case basis.