Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Adar 5759 - March 17, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Repeal the Law of Return

When the State of Israel was founded more than 50 years ago, one of the important functions that it served was as a home for hundreds of thousands of displaced Jews in Europe. Unwilling to settle in the Europe that was the repository of so many bitter memories, the hundreds of thousands who still lived in Displaced Persons camps in Europe were absorbed into the new State of Israel after its founding in May, 1948.

The legal basis for their coming was the Law of Return, which states that any Jew has the right to come to Israel as an oleh, and that every oleh is an Israeli national.

The law was amended in March, 1970 to clarify that, for the purposes of the law, a Jew is anyone who was born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism. Those amendments provided that non-Jewish spouses, children and even grandchildren of Jewish olim are also entitled to all the rights and privileges of the olim themselves.

When the law was originally passed, this law expressed the Jewish character of the new state by declaring that the State of Israel is the legal home of every Jew in the world. All he or she had to do was to come to live here.

The hundreds of thousands in the DP camps of Europe, and perhaps hundreds of thousands more in the Arab lands of North Africa and the Middle East, wanted to come and fast. They were seen as living in distress, and turning to the State of Israel as a haven. The Law of Return provided a simple, no- fuss legal basis for their arrival and integration in Israel.

Nowadays, boruch Hashem, there are no major Jewish populations in distress around the world. No one moves to Israel these days to escape persecution for being Jewish.

The clauses that seemed thirty years ago to provide only a small loophole for the entry of non-Jews, now loom very large. Thirty years of widespread intermarriage and assimilation had a devastating demographic effect on the populations that come under the welcoming umbrella of the Law of Return.

According to Professor Sergei Della Pergola of the Hebrew University, a leading Jewish demographer, for every Jew left in the former Soviet Union, there are three to four non-Jews who are fully eligible to come. In numerical terms, this means about half a million Jews and some two million non- Jews! If they all come it would have a significant and terrible impact on the Jewish character of the population of Israel.

The eligible non-Jews are coming. According to official statistics, their proportion of the immigrants increased in the past five years from about 15% to almost 30%. Remember, these are immigrants who are officially listed as non-Jews, and the figures do not count those who obtain forged identity papers that list them falsely as Jewish.

Lest one think that this is the main problem, we note that Professor Della Pergola said recently that the situation in America is similar. The ravages of assimilation and intermarriage have certainly not left it untouched.

The Law of Return no longer holds out the promise of a safe haven to anyone. If there is ever, chas vesholom, a need to rescue a Jewish community by bringing them here quickly, it is always possible to pass special legislation, as America, for example, did for Soviet Jews. So there is no need to preserve the Law of Return to provide a refuge for Jews.

In our day and age the Law of Return can also not be said to be an expression of the Jewishness of the State, when it applies to more non-Jews than Jews.

The Law of Return is an anachronism that should be eliminated.

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