Scholar urges Law of Return changes

Gavison: It may be time to separate aliya from automatic citizenship.

Prof. Ruth Gavison (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prof. Ruth Gavison
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
One of Israel’s best-known legal scholars, Prof. Ruth Gavison, is urging a rethink of the provisions of the Law of Return that could lead to eliminating automatic citizenship for new olim.
In a paper titled “The Law of Return at 60 Years,” Gavison, a professor at the Hebrew University, writes that citizenship would best be granted not automatically to every oleh, but “according to sensible conditions, such as a length of stay in the country, integration in it, and a declaration of loyalty toward [the state] as is practiced in the case of other candidates for citizenship.”
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The paper, written several months ago, was the centerpiece of debate at a Monday parley in Tel Aviv over the Law of Return.
The paper affirms the principle that Jews may be preferred in matters of immigration to Israel, based on the right of Jews to self-determination, but includes “a recommendation to examine anew the specific arrangements of the Law of Return,” including “the existing situation according to which an oleh receives citizenship [automatically] with their aliya,” Gavison told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Gavison is one of Israel’s most respected jurists and is president of the Metzilah Center, which was founded in 2005 “to address the growing tendency among Israelis and Jews worldwide to question the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism and its compatibility with universal values,” according to the center’s Web site.
The paper on the Law of Return is one of several position papers published by Metzilah in recent years.
Gavison’s argument comes from a defense of the principle behind the Law of Return, “the principle that Jews should be given the right to live in the only place in the world which is their nation state.”
Yet while the principle of return is justified, there are problems with the specific arrangements related to that principle, she believes. The paper cites the extension of eligibility for aliya to the grandchildren of Jews and their spouses as possibly being too broad, while restrictions related to those whose Jewishness is questioned by Israel’s Orthodox establishment leave many “with deep ties to the Jewish people” outside of the definition of a Jew for purposes of the law.
One of these difficulties may be in the automatic granting of citizenship to olim, something not formally required by the Law of Return, but stipulated in the Law of Citizenship.
“Citizenship needs to be taken seriously,” she said. “This is an issue of principle. I would like to see [a situation in which] when someone receives permission to participate” in Israeli life as a citizen, “they will have something more than a connection to the Jewish people. They will have a connection also to this state. They should show me, prove to me, by integration, by learning the language, that they are part of it.
“If I, as a state, want to establish stringent conditions for the granting of Israeli citizenship to foreigners – and that’s appropriate – then I believe it would be right and healthy to create similar conditions for citizenship [for olim].”