Kahana mulls allowing civil marriage in exchange for repealing Law of Return

The Law of Return was passed in 1950 and entitles Jews to the right to relocate to Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship.

An illustration of a bride and groom during a Civil marriage outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, December 9, 2020.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
An illustration of a bride and groom during a Civil marriage outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, December 9, 2020.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana is considering allowing Israelis to hold civil marriage ceremonies in foreign diplomatic missions in Israel, Channel 12’s Yair Cherki reported on Monday.

In a dramatic breakthrough that may enable civil marriage in the Jewish state, Cherki reported that there are negotiations between the centrist Yesh Atid Party and Kahana, a member of the right-wing Yamina Party.

Internal coalition negotiations have been ongoing regarding dramatic changes in the status quo in matters of religion and state. Kahana told Yesh Atid officials that he would agree to the approval of civil marriages at foreign consulates in Israel in exchange for repealing the “grandchild amendment” of the Law of Return.

The Law of Return was passed in 1950 and entitles Jews the right to relocate to Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship. Section 1 of the law declares that “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh [immigrant].” In 1970, the right of entry and settlement was extended to people with one Jewish grandparent or to any person married to a Jew, whether or not they are considered Jewish under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law.

“There are many liberal initiatives from the liberal side to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that minister Kahana was the one who prevented them from being voted on,” a source close to Kahana explained to The Jerusalem Post.

 Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2021.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2021. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

In the current ruling coalition, issues that were not mentioned in the coalition agreement need the consent of all parties.

But since the liberal bloc of parties, headed by Yesh Atid, is so devoted to promoting a law involving civil marriage, Kahana decided to negotiate for a law that would get major support from conservative Israeli voters. The Law of Return has been a very hot topic for many conservative Israeli politicians such as MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionist Party).

“We told Yesh Atid we are willing to discuss allowing the law offering civil marriage at foreign consulates to pass in return for making a major change in the Law of Return.”

Channel 12 reported that the Yisrael Beytenu Party is willing to agree to this option, even though this has a major effect on their voters, who are mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom made aliyah as grandchildren of Jews.

The religious-Zionist Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah movement responded to these reports, saying, “We welcome the decision to reexamine the existing status quo in the field of marriage, when in our opinion it is appropriate to regulate this within the framework of the law in Israel and not through foreign consulates.

“The monopoly on marriage harms hundreds of thousands of Israelis who cannot marry, and is causing a growing phenomenon of Israelis not getting married officially.”

Updating the “grandchild section” of the Law of Return, according to the movement, “will strengthen the preservation of the Jewish character of the State of Israel – and we support the need to update this.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said the report was inaccurate.

“I’ve been hearing stories about a so-called deal that will allow civil marriage in exchange for a reform in the Law of Return,” he said.

“I do not know of any such proposal and Yisrael Beytenu will never sit in a government that agrees to such nonsense. Civil marriage is an important initiative that should exist unconditionally.”