Israel's secular challenge to the Law of Return

Under the 1970 Knesset amendment to the Law of Return refuge is available to the: “child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew…”
Introduction: The debate over Israel as Zionist is most visibly represented by haredi anti-anti-Zionism. But there is also a secular move, sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant that objects to provisions of the Law of Return, wanting to reach a compromise acceptable to all political constituents. Such a “compromise would lay the groundwork for a constitution for Israel. Although motivation differs between the religious and secular initiatives, both would effectively eliminate the extended protections encompassed in the Law of Return as contained in the Grandparent Clause. Either intentionally or of ignorance, both efforts would finalize the drift from Israel-as-Zionist with legal obligations to the Diaspora, into a state legally responsible only for the welfare of its citizens, or those outsiders “halachically” Jewish.
Flag of Israel, (Wikipedia)
The 1970 “Grandparent” Amendment was both a response to legislation introduced in the Knesset by the religious parties requiring all “converted” Jews immigrating to Israel to undergo an Orthodox conversion in order to be recognized as legally “Jewish.” The second consideration was to reaffirm Israel as Zionist by recognizing its responsibility also to potential future victims described “Jewish” under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws “mischlinge” provisions defining as “Jew” anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, or not, by blood back to a single Jewish grandparent. The 1950 Law granted automatic citizenship rights to all immigrants who arrive under the Law of Return. The 1970 Amendment extends refuge to a:
“child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.. . . ‘Jew’ means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.”
Efforts to amend or annul parts of the Law, and particularly the offending Grandparent Clause, continue from both religious and secular quarters. If, for example, the religious requirement that all converted Jews immigrating to Israel undergo an “Orthodox” conversion in order to be recognized as “Jewish” were adopted it would alienate Diaspora Jewry and olim already living in Israel. The secular effort generally agrees with, or seeks compromise with this dangerous religious requirement, but couched in “secular” terms.
The most widely accepted proposal for amending the Law of Return is the annulment of the "grandchild clause," such that the non-Jewish grandchild of a Jewish grandfather would not be able to immigrate to Israel, or at least would not be able to do so without his parents or the Jewish grandfather.”
One “secular” critic is Ruth Gavison, a professor of law at Hebrew University and a former candidate for the Israel Supreme Court. In an 86 page paper, The Law of Return at Sixty Years: History, Ideology, Justification she recommends revisiting the Grandparent Clause as “too broad.” She also suggests amending the Law of Return to not grant automatic citizenship to olim (immigrants).
A stamp in a passport issuing holder Israeli citizenship based on Law of Return (Wikipedia)
But secular criticism of the Law of Return is not limited to private citizens. In fact the controversy likely originated, is certainly fueled by successive government initiatives:
"In the last Knesset [this article appeared in 2005], Justice and Immigration Minister Tzipi Livni submitted a bill that would annul [my emphasis] the grandchild clause … Livni was not alone… The present deputy education minister, Michael Melchior, served as chairman of the ministerial committee on conversions to Judaism in the government of Ehud Barak. At that time, Melchior submitted to the prime minister a proposal of his own to reduce the scope of the Law of Return.”
Although the traditional support base for the religious parties is the Israeli Right, Tzipi Livni is generally considered a “dove,” and Michael Melchior has even stronger credentials as an advocate for social justice and commitment to strengthening bonds between Israel and the Diaspora! As regards government initiatives to eliminate the Grandparent Clause,
“Ten years ago [1995], an internal committee in the Justice Ministry drew up a proposal to reduce the possibility of non-Jewish grandchildren and family members being naturalized under the Law of Return.”
The Government and the constitution: If private citizens and individuals within the government are guilty of "bad faith," of behavior detrimental to the state’s Zionist identity; if individuals would omit from law Israel’s responsibilities as refuge to the Diaspora, what to make of the Government of Israel acting in this manner?
Israel’s Declaration of Independence includes instructions designating 1 October, 1948 as the date the Knesset should have presented a constitution for a vote. For various reasons, principally the question of “religion and the state,” the proposed constitution “failed to get out of committee.” The most ambitious effort to create a constitution was made in 2010 when, Prime Minister Olmert, instructed Menachem Ben-Sasson, chairman of the Knesset''s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, to prepare a constitution in time for Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations.
The panel began its work with a document that was drafted by the committee during the previous (16th) Knesset… the previous committee drafted more than 1,000 pages that included three versions of the constitution proposed by the Israel Democracy Institute, the Institute for Zionist Strategy and the Israel Religious Action Center.”
In the end Ben-Sasson’s Committee also failed for reasons already described, "religion and the state." But tellingly, as regards the Law of Return,
“the prevailing trend in the committee is for the constitutional section on this to be very general, in order to leave out the question of "who is a Jew." The objective is to simultaneously present the Knesset with a new Law of Return, that omits the grandfather clause … but includes a clause enabling anyone who is a member of a Jewish community to immigrate, even if he is not halakhically Jewish [my emphasis].”
Certainly a “politic” response to the anticipated the firestorm that conditioning the Law of Return on Halacha would ignite in both the Russian émigré community in Israel, and the Diaspora; and particularly the "interfering (as described by haredi politicians)" Americans!
But as a document representing Israel’s approach to its post-Holocaust obligations outlined in the 1970 Amendment, Ben-Sasson once again represents a complete retreat from Israel as Zionist.
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