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Sunday 25 November 2007

Hands off the Law of Return

Jerusalem Post
Oct 31, 2007 20:46 | Updated Nov 1, 2007 7:53
Hands off the Law of Return
Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit set off a mini-bombshell Tuesday when he
told the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors that it is time to cease
handing out automatic Israeli citizenship "to any Jew." To that effect,
Sheetrit proposed amending the Law of Return. The uproar he managed to
generate not only yielded controversial headlines and elicited
contentious reactions, but it also overshadowed whatever cogent
arguments Sheetrit presented as justification for his radical remedy. If
Sheetrit's aim was to promote serious discussion, then he foiled it.
This divergence from the norm, however, hardly makes the Law of Return a
candidate for amendment, as Sheetrit recommends. If anything, it should
be protected and cherished in an age of burgeoning post-Zionism and
inimical Arab aims to divest Israel of its inherent Jewishness.
That said, there is no doubt that immigrants with tenuous Jewish links,
if any links at all, have come to comprise the bulk of the aliya
reaching this country under the aegis of the law, which allows the entry
of grandchildren of a Jew, and their progeny, even if they no longer
consider themselves Jewish nor identify with the Jewish collective.
It is also true that claims of distant Jewish ancestry (including the
fabled "lost tribes") by some particularly exotic newcomers often test
credibility. But the Law of Return isn't at fault. What is wrongheaded
is its application.
It is right to admit grandchildren of a Jew who, on their own volition,
have decided to bond their future with that of the Jewish nation. Indeed
there is every reason to welcome such returnees with open arms and open
Lacking judgment, however, is the practice of many organizations,
especially those operating in the FSU (including the Jewish Agency and
Nativ), which pro-actively endeavor to inflate immigration rolls and
recruit olim. Their emissaries comb provincial ex-Soviet cities seeking
out those who may possibly be of Jewish descent yet are alienated from
anything Jewish. They are sometimes coaxed to Israel with promises of
higher living standards. Such practices attract not only estranged
semi-Jews but downright bogus claimants to Jewish extraction.
Many of those arriving from the Russian-speaking sphere for the past few
years have not been Jews but, rather, non-Jews eligible for aliya. Some
have energetically sought to reembrace, or indeed embrace, the faith.
But others encounter considerable absorption and acculturation
difficulties, while the host society is taken aback by patterns of
violence hitherto scarce in the Jewish milieu.
The same goes for some obvious non-Jewish groupings in Ethiopia and
elsewhere. Airlifting non-Jews with an eye to converting them here is
misguided. We are nearing the point where we may wonder whether padding
population figures is optimal for Israel; whether it doesn't weaken
Israel as a Jewish state rather than strengthen it.
Yet precisely at this ultra-sensitive juncture the greatest care must be
taken not to throw out the baby with the bath water. None of the above
mandates tampering with the Law of Return. In fact, it behooves the
Jewish state to keep painstakingly implementing this law, including its
"grandfather clause." The emphasis, however, must change.
Part-Jews who immigrate at their individual initiative merit the warmest
reception. They are among those for whom the Law of Return was enacted.
Its aim, however, was never to hunt for prospective immigrants and
entice them with material benefits. Thus vestigial quasi-Jews should not
be actively sought and wooed.
Sheetrit, therefore, would do best to seek to change government policy
and discourage aggressive searches for Jews where almost none exist. He
should not be pompously taking out a contract on the Law of Return.


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