Religious parties demand major change to law defining ‘who is a Jew’ that can immigrate to Israel

“We think that taking a family that has been living as distinctly Christian for two generations and saying that [they are Jewish] because they had a Jewish grandfather three generations back – is something that needs to be corrected.”

By Adina Katz, World Israel News

The three religious parties expected to join a coalition headed by Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu are pushing for a major change to the Law of Return, which defines the criteria for who is eligible to immigrate to Israel.

The current Law of Return states that any person with a Jewish grandfather has the right to settle in Israel with the support of the government, which includes housing, medical care, and an absorption package with financial aid and Hebrew language classes.

The Religious Zionism party and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, along with conservative Israeli think tanks, have long complained that the law provides a loophole for those with tenuous links to their Jewish heritage to take financial advantage of Israel.

The parties want to change the law to state that those with the right to move to Israel must be Jewish according to strict Jewish law, either born to a Jewish mother or through an Orthodox conversion.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir on Sunday insisted that a coalition under Netanyahu’s leadership must commit to legislation that would end recognition of non-Orthodox conversions for the purpose of becoming Israeli citizens.

Read  Immigration minister calls for scrapping Law of Return's 'grandchild clause' without legislation

“We think that taking a family that has been living as distinctly Christian for two generations and saying that [they are Jewish] because they had a Jewish grandfather three generations back – is something that needs to be corrected,” MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) told Radio 103FM.

Outgoing Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai wrote on Twitter that any potential change to the Law of Return could seriously damage relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

“The very proposal, on a day when the world commemorates Kristallnacht, indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people in the Diaspora,” he stated. “The Law of Return is one of the cornerstones of the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish people.”

In May 2022, a report found that almost one out of every three Russian nationals who immigrated to Israel within recent months left the country after just one month with an Israeli passport and a cash bonus aimed at easing the acclimation process for new immigrants.

The vast majority of those Russian nationals were not Jewish according to halacha (Jewish law).