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Israel Must Become More Welcoming to Diaspora Jews
(WIkimedia Commons)

Israel Must Become More Welcoming to Diaspora Jews

Ma’ariv, Israel, September 12

The Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that the widow of a person entitled to enter the country under the Law of Return, which gives Diaspora Jews the right to come and live in Israel, is also entitled to Israeli citizenship and the status of an immigrant. As is well known, the Zionist vision was to establish a Jewish state that would allow anyone with an affinity for Judaism to receive citizenship in Israel. In essence, the Law of Return stated that anyone who is a Jew or a descendant of a Jew could be part of the Jewish State. The “grandchild clause,” which was added to the Law in 1970, stipulated that sons and grandsons of Jews are also entitled to immigrate to Israel even if they themselves aren’t Jews. Recently, the Knesset, after a heated debate, rejected a controversial proposal to repeal this clause. Yet the real problem isn’t the “grandchild clause.” The real problem is the contradiction between the leniency of the Law of Return, which recognizes and accepts different “shades” of Judaism, and Israel’s state institutions, which discriminate against anyone who isn’t Jewish according to strict Jewish jurisprudence. Therefore, those who are given the right to immigrate and settle in Israel on the basis of the Law of Return, often encounter a rigid and bureaucratic system that discriminates against them. Today, in Israel, 300,000-400,000 Israelis who consider themselves Jews aren’t viewed as such by the State. They therefore can’t marry in Israel or even be buried next to their Jewish spouse. While they come into Israel as Jews, after being viewed as and regarded as such in their countries of origin, they immediately become second-class citizens upon arrival. Many studies have shown that many Russian-speaking Israelis, who are not Jews according to Jewish jurisprudence, see themselves as part of the Jewish people. Only 8% of them actually underwent a conversion process in the last 30 years, probably due to the difficulties associated with the Orthodox conversion process. And if that’s not enough, let’s talk about 700,000-800,000 Russian-speaking Israelis who immigrated in the 1990’s from the Soviet Union, who are still perceived by many as second-class Jews. The rabbinate looks at them with suspicion, they are required to undergo humiliating Judaism inquiries, and some are even denied their Judaism because, 30 years after immigrating to Israel, they failed to meet the strict requirements and prove that they are indeed Jews. The tragedy of the Jewish people today is that the establishment or the system of religious services has failed to absorb even those who were recognized as Jews according to Jewish law. The phenomenon of mixed marriages of Jews around the world is growing across the world, including in the United States, France and Canada. Do we want to close the gate to these individuals who live fully Jewish lives? Quite the contrary: Our connection as a people must be strengthened. These Jews must be welcomed into Israel in a way that makes them feel equal and worthy members of the Jewish State. – Alex Reef (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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