By Advocate Daniel Aspiro, Head of Private Clientele |
The Law of Return is one of the most fundamental laws of Israel providing Jews, their children, their spouses, and their grandchildren the right to immigrate to Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship.
In 1970 the law was amended to include the “Grandchild Clause” which allows any person with at least one Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel so long as he/she does not practice another religion, and even if they are not considered Jewish according to (Halacha) Jewish law. Many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union obtained their citizenship under this clause.
For more than 50 years, Israel has refrained from changing the Law of Return in order to maintain the “Status Quo”.
Following the recent 2022 government elections, during the new government’s coalition negotiations, the far-right and religious parties have stated their intention to abolish the so-called grandchild clause in the Law of Return, in order to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority.
As of today, about half a million Israeli citizens are defined as having “no religion” because they have made Aliyah and obtained citizenship based on having a Jewish father or grandparent, however, they are not the child of a Jewish mother and are thus not defined as “Jewish” according to Jewish law.
Data indeed shows that more than half of the immigrants to Israel since the great immigration in 1990 are not Jewish, according to (Halacha) Jewish law. Moreover, since the recent 2022 outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine, an estimated 42,000 new immigrants from these countries have made Aliyah exercising their rights under the Law of Return though most of these new immigrants would not be eligible to register as “Jewish” in Israel’s population registry.
Avi Maoz of the “Noam” political party is set to become the next Head of “Jewish identity”. Maoz will also supervise Nativ, the organization responsible for Aliyah immigration from the former Soviet Union countries. According to Maoz, one of his goals is to limit eligibility for immigration to Israel by granting Aliyah permission, exclusively to those who meet the definition of “Jewish” according to Jewish law, (and their children) instead of the previously used “status quo” standard. .
Although Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he opposes this amendment, and suggests forming a committee to prevent those who are not eligible from exploiting the benefits given to new immigrants (rather than denying their legitimate rights under the law of return).
Nevertheless, the grandchild clause may still be abolished. In such cases, grandchildren who have at least one Jewish grandparent, but who do not meet the definition of “Jewish” according to Jewish law, would no longer be permitted to make Aliya and immigrate to Israel. Such change is unlikely to affect the vast majority of those making aliyah from the United States as only a few Americans came to Israel using the “grandfather clause”.
Doron Almog, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, said earlier this month with respect to keeping the status quo intact: “We believe that it is critical to ensure our relations with world Jewry remain intact and that the everlasting commitment to enable Jews from all corners of the globe to make Aliyah must be upheld”.
Members of the upcoming opposition in the Knesset are opposing any attempt to cancel the “grandchild clause,” particularly the Yisrael Beytenu party led by Avigdor Liberman. A large percentage of that party is comprised of members who were able to immigrate to Israel based on the clause.
The suggested legislation may go into effect immediately, and may even affect ongoing cases. KTA urges anyone currently eligible under the grandchild clause, who is interested in making Aliyah, to submit their application either in Israel or at the Israeli consulate abroad immediately, as a precaution against the event that the grandchild clause is abolished by the new government.