Liberman to Jewish groups: Help stop new gov't's plan to change Law of Return

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman blasts potential changes to the Law of Return as step towards a fundamentalist approach to religion and state.

 Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman defends the budget in a Knesset address. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman defends the budget in a Knesset address.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman sent a letter on Wednesday to heads of American Jewish organizations and Jewish members of Congress asking them to speak out against the demand of the Israeli religious political parties to amend the Law of Return.

“Introducing a fundamentalist approach to the role of religion and state is dangerous and utterly appalling. This is an urgent call to join forces and stand together in safeguarding Israel’s Law of Return – the ‘bedrock of Zionism,’” Liberman wrote in a letter, quoting William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

He said Israel’s law “is being confronted and threatened by certain political forces seeking to amend it under the false pretense of maintaining Israel as a Jewish state” and that the goal of these politicians is “to repeal the law’s ‘grandchild clause’ and to revoke the right to make aliyah for those who were not converted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”

The grandchild clause permits anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent to make aliyah, regardless of the halachic considerations. According to him, the religious party members of the new government who have claimed that “the grandchildren of Jews and those who underwent non-Orthodox conversions threaten the Jewish state are outlandish.”

He explained that “the leading experts on immigration to Israel and researchers of Jewish peoplehood across the globe insist that the opposite is true. Today, grandchildren of Jews are far more likely to join the Jewish collective in Israel and in the Diaspora than in the preceding generations.”

 Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 17, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 17, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

"Today, grandchildren of Jews are far more likely to join the Jewish collective in Israel and in the Diaspora than in the preceding generations."

Avigdor Liberman

The letter was distributed to the heads of more than 40 US Jewish leaders, including the Israeli American Council, JCC Association of America, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Federations of North America, Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish National Fund, National Council of Young Israel, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Religious Zionists of America Mizrachi, Hillel International, Birthright Israel and Friends of the IDF

The letter was also sent to senators Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein from California and representative for Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district David Cicilline.

Russian-speaking Israelis impacted by changes to the Law of Return

Liberman’s constituency is mainly Russian speakers, a large number of whom aren’t considered Jews according to the Chief Rabbinate. Liberman’s critics say he always insisted in influencing the Law of Return’s grandfather clause, since it assisted his attempts to receive more political support from the new immigrants from former Soviet Union countries.

Liberman stressed that amending the law, as all of the coalition parties wish to do, except the Likud, “will not only ostracize three million people who are categorically defined as ‘Zera Yisrael’ [a legal category in Jewish law that denotes the blood descendants of Jews who, for one reason or another, are not legally of Jewish ethnicity], but will serve to alienate their parents and grandparents, drastically reducing rates of aliyah.”

According to Liberman, if the law is amended, “Jews, their children and their grandchildren will actively disengage from both Israel and Jewish organizations worldwide.”

He added that the “mere discourse” within “Israel’s upper political echelons - and the outright declaration that agreeing to alter the law” is a “prerequisite for political parties keen to join the next governing coalition – should trigger grave concern and must not be ignored.”

According to Liberman, alterations to the Law of Return will “establish a dangerous precedent” that may be used as catalyst for “enacting further potentially detrimental changes to Israel’s delicate status quo and balance between Judaism and state.”

He added that there already are political figures looking to “institutionalize gender-based segregation in public spaces,” yet he didn’t specify exactly which politicians have asked for this type of segregation. Ultra-Orthodox politicians have asked to allow them to receive state funding for events that take place for men or women separately.

He added that there is “a growing desire,” by various political elements to “legally enshrine how Judaism can or cannot be outwardly expressed in the public sphere.”

The examples he gave were the fact that the egalitarian Kotel plaza hasn’t been completed and claimed that “there is a direct correlation between these intended measures and the intent to quash any hopes of fostering a Judaism that embraces and is more tolerant of the broader Jewish world.”

He wrote that any plans to implement the Western Wall compromise “will be wholly negated,” and that “Judaism in Israel will become both divisive and absolute – something that will have far-reaching consequences within the Diaspora.”

According to Liberman, this will have a direct influence on Israel-Diaspora relations.

“The ramifications for such changes in the status quo will surely threaten the very bonds and foundations upon which the Israel-Diaspora relationship was established.”