Israel may broaden Law of Return to help Russians with Jewish ancestry evade army

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman proposes changing law to extend citizenship to those with one Jewish great-grandparent.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

The Israeli government will weigh the possibility of broadening the Law of Return to expedite the immigration and absorption of Russian Jews and their families who may be conscripted into the Russian military, Kan News reported on Monday.

The Law of Return is an Israeli law giving any Jew in the world the right to live in Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship. The law currently defines a Jew as someone with at least one Jewish grandparent.

The idea was proposed by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose Israel Beiteinu party represents thousands of Israelis originally from the Former Soviet Union. Liberman specified that this proposal could be temporary measure.

According to Kan news, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said there should be a government discussion on the matter.

The Law of Return has no special constitutional status. It can be revised or revoked by a Knesset majority of 61.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to draft up to 300,000 Russians to fight in Ukraine, triggering a run on border crossings. More than 5,400 Russian Jews have arrived in Israel since Putin announced the conscription. An overall 24,000 Russian Jews have made aliyah since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

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The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved a 90 million shekel ($25 million) plan to support an expected wave of Russian aliyah. According to Kan, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption expects 5,000-6,000 new immigrants to arrive every month.

Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem warned on Friday that dual Israeli-Russian nationals may be conscripted. IDF soldiers with Russian citizenship are now forbidden to go to Russia.

Broadening the Law of Return raises fraught questions of who is considered Jewish. Jewish religious law recognizes as Jewish someone whose mother was Jewish or was converted to Judaism by Orthodox authorities.

However, the Law of Return extends aliyah rights to people with one Jewish grandparent. The law also offers citizenship to that immigrant’s spouse and children. Russian Jews have a high degree of intermarriage.

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai said, “There are 600,000 Jews in Russia according to the Law of Return and 160,000 Jews according to Halacha [Jewish law]. Let’s not be fixated on historical things. The previous [waves of aliyah] brought life” to Israel.

Expressing his opposition, Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman tweeted, “The Law of Return was enacted so that Israel would be a Jewish state. Liberman is working on destroying Israel’s Jewish identity.”

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Israel-Russia relations are further complicated by Moscow’s efforts to ban the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organization that facilitates aliyah.