Israeli think-tank seeks to create ‘Diaspora Jews visa’

Israel’s Law of Return originally allowed people who were Jewish, or who had Jewish grandparents, to immigrate to Israel and automatically become citizens.

 Diaspora Jews at Ben-Gurion Airport after making Aliyah to Israel. (photo credit: THE JEWISH AGENCY)
Diaspora Jews at Ben-Gurion Airport after making Aliyah to Israel.
(photo credit: THE JEWISH AGENCY)

“There is no reason to automatically recognize a grandson of a Jew with no affinity to Israel as a potential Israeli citizen.” So said a member of an Israeli think tank on Sunday, who co-wrote a paper suggesting minor changes to Israel’s Law of Return.

The Judaism and State Policy Center at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem will soon release the policy paper.

Israel’s Law of Return, which was passed in 1950, originally allowed people who were Jewish, or who had Jewish grandparents, the ability to immigrate to Israel and automatically receive citizenship. The law was amended in 1970 to say that people with at least one Jewish grandparent or someone who is married to a Jew, whether or not they are considered Jewish under Jewish law, can also automatically receive citizenship.

“This alternative recognizes the Jewish sequence for the purpose of examining eligibility for citizenship under the Law of Return,” the paper states, “and thus that the answer to the question ‘Who is a Jew?’ is not uniform but extends to a sequence of possible identities.”

The paper suggests distinguishing between three “circles” that pertain to personal status.

 Tani Frank, director of the Judaism and State Policy Center at the Hartman Institute  (credit: TANI FRANK) Tani Frank, director of the Judaism and State Policy Center at the Hartman Institute (credit: TANI FRANK)

“The first circle has a biological component to it,” center director Tani Frank told The Jerusalem Post. “If you are a Jew according to the accepted definition, you will receive citizenship.”

“If you are a Jew according to the accepted definition, you will receive citizenship.”

Tanki Frank

The second circle relates to the child, grandchild or great-grandchild of a Jew, and their spouses.

“Our proposed law will state that all of these mentioned people are welcome to make aliyah but will not automatically receive citizenship. They can of course become citizens, but through a gradual procedure, or residence visa,” he explained.

Frank and his team suggest offering these descendants of Jews a “graded procedure” that is similar to the Law of Entry into Israel for those who aren’t Jewish. For example, an Israeli with a non-Jewish spouse from abroad who wants to live in Israel doesn’t receive citizenship automatically.

“We want to offer a more complex, graded process that is acceptable in many countries, since you want to see that the applicant has some sort of connection or affinity to the country before automatically granting them citizenship,” Frank said.

Parameters for Israeli citizens

THE POLICY paper identifies three parameters for defining these children or grandchildren of Jews to determine if they should be allowed to become Israeli citizens. The first parameter is “affinity for those who are already ‘entitled to return’ or for an Israeli citizen,” it said.

The second parameter is affinity to the Jewish community in the person’s country of origin, which the paper says will “reduce the length of time required for him or her” to obtain citizenship in the graded procedure. However, “If he or she has no affiliation with a Jewish community, they will be required [to proceed] for a longer period of time,” until they receive approval to immigrate.

The third parameter is “persecution or distress on antisemitic grounds.” According to the paper, “In the case where immigration to the State of Israel takes place on the grounds of antisemitic persecution or suffering and distress resulting from the Jewish origin of the immigrant, the length of his graded procedure will be lessened.”

Finally, the third circle involves “all eligible persons who do not wish to carry out the citizenship process,” Frank said. The policy paper recommends creating an “extended residence visa for Diaspora Jews.” In this circle, another tier is added to the clear eligibility of a Jew making aliyah.

“The first or second circles of non-Israeli citizens will be entitled to a ‘Diaspora Jews visa’ that will allow entry to Israel at any time and stay[ing] in the country for up to three years.” According to Frank, by offering such a visa, “the third circle basically opens the doors of Israel to Diaspora Jews, in order to obtain temporary status in Israel, even without the issuance of citizenship.”

The Law of Return “actually determines the legal context of how the Israeli legislature views Diaspora Jewry,” Frank explains. “Through the right of aliyah, the Jewish people are defined and a visible redline is set. The law certainly does not describe the Jewish people in a halachic [Jewish law] way, since the law recognizes conversion from all three streams in Judaism.”

Frank noted that the last modification to the law was made more than 50 years ago.

“Since 1970,” he said, “many things have changed in the world and of course in the Jewish world, yet the law remains intact.”

Though Frank and his team agree that there needs to be an alteration to the current Law of Return, they are against the cancellation of the 1970 amendment that broadened the groups of people who are eligible to immigrate.

A conference titled “An updated look on the Law of Return’’ is scheduled to take placeat the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem on Monday, organized by the Judaism and State Policy Center. Two panels will discuss topics regarding the law with a perspective on citizenship and on Jewish-Diaspora relations. The conference will be attended by Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern as well as MKs from various parties.