The chairman of the far-right Noam Party, MK Avi Maoz, submitted a bill to the Knesset on Sunday evening to repeal the Grandchild Clause in the Law of Return, which extends the right to Israeli citizenship to anyone who has a Jewish grandparent.
“In its current form, the Law of Return enacted in 1950, also allows the grandchild of a Jew to receive the status and rights of an immigrant, even if he, and sometimes even if his parents, are no longer Jewish,” reads the bill’s explanatory text.
It continues, “This means that the law is being exploited by many who have severed all ties with the Jewish people and its traditions and in practice, is emptying the law of its original intent, which is to open the gates of the state to the Jews of the Diaspora.”
Maoz added, “[The] purpose of this amendment is to reduce the rights of family members who fall within the scope of the law in such a way that the descendants entitled to it will only be the children of a Jew and not his grandchildren.”
National Unity Party MK Ze’ev Elkin asked in response, “Are there any basic tenets of the existence of this country that [Maoz] won’t try to destroy?”
Yisrael Beytenu said in a statement that it would “not allow this coalition to turn Israel into a halachic [Jewish law] state. Instead of trying to make people get closer to Judaism and prevent a division in the nation, we see a deliberate attempt to seriously damage the values of Zionism and the future of the Jewish people.”
What is the Grandchild Clause and why do some Israeli lawmakers want to cancel it?
The Grandchild Clause, which was added to the Law of Return in 1970, allows not only Jews to become Israeli citizens, but also those who have at least one Jewish grandparent, even if they themselves aren’t Jewish according to religious law.
The Grandchild Clause has never ever been very popular but has become more relevant with increased immigration from Russia and Ukraine in recent years, since many of the immigrants aren’t Jewish according to Halacha.
The cancellation of the clause was discussed even before the current government came into power. Members of the Religious Zionist Party bloc have been promoting this amendment, which is also supported by the ultra-Orthodox parties. There are also MKs in the Likud who have publicly supported canceling the clause, or at least amending it.
The government was supposed to set up a committee that would deal with the issue, but it has not yet been established.
In January, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli said in an interview with Israeli journalist Miri Michaeli that the government “isn’t going to cancel the Grandchild Clause” but that a committee would be established.
Asked how he reacted to the alarm expressed by many American Jews over the issue, Chikli said, “There is great alarm among the left. It’s obvious and it affects [the discourse] dramatically.”
He added, “We are listening [to American Jews], and I spent hours listening to Jewish leaders who told me what they have to say about the Law of Return, of the judicial changes and everything else. We’re listening to the criticism. We’re listening to their concerns.”
Maoz served as deputy minister in the current government for a few months before quitting, claiming that he wasn’t given all the authority to which he was entitled.
Maoz supports the coalition although he is no longer a member of it, but won’t automatically vote in favor of every law that the coalition supports. The Likud has not been happy with the introduction of the proposed cancellation of the Grandchild Clause, seeing a widespread desire to calm tensions, both internally – with massive national divisions following 13 weeks of protests against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul – and internationally.
An amendment of the Law of Return would be yet another red line crossed in regard to Diaspora Jewry, as well as to more than a million Russian-speaking Israelis.