- Law of Return
The Law of Return (Hebrew: חוק השבות, "ḥok ha-shvūt") is Israeli legislation, originating in 1950, that gives
Jews, those of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses the right to migrate to and settle in Israeland gain citizenship.
July 5, 1950, the Knesset, Israel's Parliament enacted item 5710-1950, the Law of Return. [ [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1950_1959/Law%20of%20Return%205710-1950 Law of Return 5710-1950 ] ] Follow-up legislation on immigration matters as they pertain to Jews and non-Jews is enshrined in the Nationality Law passed in 1952. These two pieces of legislation combine religion, history, nationalism, and democracy, in a way unique to Israel. Together, the legislation grants special rights to Jewswith the aim of facilitating their immigrationto the Jews' ancestral homeland.
The Law of Return declares that Israel constitutes a home not only for the inhabitants of the State, but also for all members of the Jewish people everywhere - be they living in poverty and fear of persecution or in affluence and safety.
The law gives the right of return to those born Jews (having a Jewish mother or grandmother), those with Jewish ancestry (having a Jewish father or grandfather) and converts to Judaism (Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative denominations— not secular — though Reform and Conservative conversions must take place outside the state, similar to civil marriages).
The purpose of the Law of Return, like that of the Zionist movement, was to provide a solution to the Jewish people's problem--to re-establish a home for the entire Jewish people in "Eretz Yisrael", the
Land of Israel. In the Law of Return, the State of Israel put into practice the Zionist movement's "credo" as pledged in Israel's Declaration of Independence and recognized by the League of Nationsin 1922, when charging Britain with the duty of establishing a Jewish National Home, and by the United Nationswithin the Partition Plan of 1947 which provided for establishment of Israel as an independent Jewish state.
A religious and cultural vision
Jewish immigration to "Eretz Israel" (The Land of Israel) was not only seen as the fulfillment of a religious cultural vision, but was portrayed as the "only" viable option for Jews seeking refuge from anti-Semitic persecution. While other states had denied the mass immigration of Jewish refugees, Zionist advocates in Palestine worked to make a tangible political reality out of the yearning for a
Jewish homeland, putting it forward as an immediate means for continued survival.
Those who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return are immediately entitled to citizenship. However, differences of opinion have arisen as to whether a person who claims citizenship under the Law of Return should be automatically registered as "Jewish" for census purposes. According to the halakhic definition, a person is Jewish if their mother is Jewish, or if he or she converts to Judaism.
Charedicitizens of Israel generally do not recognized conversions performed by Reform or Conservative Judaism. However, the Law provides that any Jew regardless of affiliation may migrate to Israel and claim citizenship.
Originally, the Law of Return was restricted to Jews only. A 1970 amendment, however, stated that, "The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an "oleh" under the Nationality Law... are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew".
The Nuremberg parallel
One explanation for this amendment is that the Law of Return attempts to provide sanctuary as a citizen in Israel to anyone who would be persecuted under the
Nuremberg Laws. As the Nuremberg Laws did not use a "halakhic" definition in its definition of Who is a Jew, the Law of Return definition for citizenship eligibility is not "halakhic", either. The Law of Return provides sanctuary to anyone covered by the definition under the Nuremberg Laws, but does not automatically presume that the person is halakhicly Jewish for the purposes of laws governing personal status. The Israeli Rabbinate is a purely Orthodox body that is far more strict in defining 'who is a Jew'. Thousands of “Jewish” immigrants are ineligible for marriage and are not recognized by the state authorities. [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Politics/return.html The Law of Return: An Introduction] ]
In 'Eichmann in Jerusalem', Hannah Arendt commented on the 'breathtaking naiveté' with which the prosecutor claimed "We make no ethnic distinctions," while, at the same time he denounced the [http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/documents/gerblood.htm Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor of 1935] , which had prohibited intermarriage and sexual relations between Jews and Germans. She felt it was rather ironic, since rabbinical law legally governed the personal status of Jewish citizens, so that no Jew could marry a non-Jew. She explained that it had nothing to do with respect for the faith, but rather that religious and non-religious Jews seemed to think it was desirable to have a law that prohibited intermarriage. She observed that children of mixed marriages were legally bastards, and that if a person didn't have a Jewish mother he could neither be married nor buried. Government officials admitted to her that they were agreed upon the undesirability of a written constitution in which that sort of thing would have to be spelled out. [ [http://www.google.com/books?id=ZwjNGDPUSPsC&dq=&pg=PP1&ots=ZyeDpL5DsU&source=citation&sig=wtmo-cSGxZ--72mODN65L5GJNc0#PPA7,M1 Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt, Published by Penguin Classics, 1992, Page 7, ISBN 0140187650] ] When thousands of conversions were recently called into question, an editorial noted that 'permitting gentiles to marry Jews, 'was a colossal assimilation disaster that would destroy the purity of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel' The author noted that if the "converts" had married Jews, sexual relations were prohibited; if a woman had given birth after the conversion, her children were not considered Jewish; if the convert was single and wished to get married, he or she would not be allowed to do so in Israel. [ [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1210668648537&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Religious affairs: God only knows where this will lead, by Matthew Wagner, Jerusalem Post] ]
The demographic explanation
A second explanation is that in order to increase immigration levels so as to offset the "
demographic threat" posed by the continuing presence and growth of the Palestinian population, the law expanded the base group of those eligible to immigrate to Israel. [Ian Lustick, "Israel as a Non-Arab State: The Political Implications of Mass Immigration of Non-Jews,” "Middle East Journal", 53:3, 101-117, 1999.]
The secular explanation
A third explanation promoted by religious Jews is that the overwhelmingly secular leadership in Israel sought to undermine the influence of religious elements in Israeli politics and society by allowing more secular Jews and their non-Jewish spouses to immigrate. [ Eleonara Poltinnikova-Shifrin. "The Jewish State and the Law of Return." [http://foundation1.org/wp-en/2002/01/01/the-jewish-state-and-the-law-of-return-2/]
1 January 2002. ]
A Jew can be excluded from Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return if he or she is considered to be dangerous to the welfare of the State of Israel. Jews who have a past that involves a serious crime, such as murder, or who are fugitives in another country for any felony (unless they are labeled such as persecution victims) can be denied the right of return, (e.g. Meyer Lansky,
Victor Vancier). [ Crime Library. [http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/mob_bosses/lansky/israel_9.html] ] Specifically excluded from the Law of Return are any "person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion." (e.g. Brother Daniel).
Supreme Court of Israelruled in 1989 that Messianic Judaismconstituted another religion, and that Jews who had become Messianic Jews were not therefore eligible for Aliyah under the law. The government of Israel used this ruling to exclude anyone who was a Messianic Jew. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DEFDB1439F934A15751C1A96F948260 Israeli Court Rules Jews for Jesus Cannot Automatically Be Citizens - New York Times ] ]
On April 16, 2008, the
Supreme Court of Israelruled in a case brought by a number of people with Jewish fathers and grandfathers whose applications for citizenship had been rejected on the grounds that they were Messianic Jews. The argument was made by the applicants that they had never been Jews according to halakha, and were not therefore excluded by the conversion clause. This argument was upheld in the rulingcite web
url = http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1208870469395&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
title = Messianic Ruling
accessdate = 2008-04-22
year = 2008
work = jpost.com
publisher = The Jerusalem Post
quote = "the petitioners were entitled to automatic new immigrant status and citizenship precisely because...they were the offspring of Jewish fathers."] cite web
url = http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/359362.aspx
title = Messianic Ruling
accessdate = 2008-04-17
year = 2008
work = cbn.com
publisher = CBNnews.com
quote = Myers told CBN News, "The bottom line is that if your father is Jewish or if any of your grandparents are Jewish from your father's side - even if you're a Messianic Jew - you can immigrate to Israel under the law of return or under the law of citizenship if you marry an Israeli citizen."] , and the government agreed to reprocess their applications.
Critics claim that the Law of Return runs counter to the claims of a democratic state. [ Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations. "UN Economic, Social and Cultural Committee Expresses Grave Concern Over Israel's Discriminatory Practices." [http://www.palestine-un.org/news/may99_cult.html] accessed
2 October 2006. ] [ [http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/0/6d4c59c0007fd772c1256be6004d2fb8?OpenDocument&Click= Press Releases: Occupied Palestinian Territory, The international community is bargaining with the rights of the Palestinians ] ] [ Jonathan Cook. "Hollow Visions of Palestine's Future." [http://www.antiwar.com/cook/?articleid=10029] November 18, 2006, accessed 23 February 2007. ]
Palestiniansand advocates for Palestinian refugeerights criticize the Law of Return, which they compare to the Palestinian claim to a right of return. [Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Law of Return. [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2001/8/The%20Law%20of%20Return-%201950] ] These critics consider the Law, as contrasted against the denial of the right of return, as offensive and as institutionalized ethnic discrimination. [ [http://www.adc.org/issue_papers/ror/issuepaper30.PDF return.PDF ] ]
Arguments in support of the Law of Return
Defenders of the Law argue that:
# The Law of Return is not the only one way of acquiring citizenship. For example, non-Jews can become citizens by naturalization, residence, or marrying an Israeli citizen. Naturalization, for instance, is available under certain circumstances for the non-Jewish parents of a citizen who has completed his or her army service [Sheleg, Y. 2004. "Not Halakhically Jewish: the Dilemma of Non-Jewish Immigrants in Israel." Jerusalem: Israeli Democracy Institute, working paper 51 (in Hebrew)] . It is pointed out that the Law of Return was intended to deal with historic homelessness and persecution of Jew around the world. [ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Acquisition of Israeli Nationality". [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Facts+About+Israel/State/Acquisition+of+Israeli+Nationality.htm] ] [ [http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/5100bc0e2f8ebf74c1257100004b9fde/$FILE/G0543809.pdf International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination] , CERD/C/471/Add.2, 1 September 2005.]
# They also point out that the right granted to Jews along with their relatives under the Law does not necessarily or automatically discriminate against non-Jews, but is a form of "positive" discrimination. Israel has residency and citizenship laws for non-Jews that are equivalent to those in other liberal democracies. It is argued that these kinds of laws are common and consistent with
international law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial DiscriminationArticle I(3) which allows for preferential immigration treatment of some groups, provided there is no discrimination against a specific group. [http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=22&x_article=747 "From 'Ethnic Cleansing' to Casualty Count, Prof. Qumsiyeh Errs"] Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, August 20, 2004.] Others point to the legal barring of Jews from several Arab states, with Jordangoing so far as to enshrine that principle in its constitution. [ [http://www.meforum.org/article/263 Why Jews Fled the Arab Countries - Middle East Quarterly ] ] [ [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2501/is_n1_v18/ai_18413376/pg_13 Citizenship legislation in the Syrian Arab Republic | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ) | Find Articles at BNET ] ]
# That while the purpose of the Law of Return is to keep Israel predominantly Jewish, the policy that it represents is legitimate and justified. In a world where Jews have been persecuted, the concept of maintaining a
Jewish stateis necessary for the survival of the Jewish people generally and to provide a safe haven for Jewish refugees in specific cases. Here again, defenders cite the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Article I(4), which allows for preferential treatment for some groups in order to remedy past discrimination.
imilar laws in other countries
In addition to Israel, several other countries (e.g. Germany [Christian Joppke & Zeev Rosenhek, "Contesting Ethnic Immigration: Germany and Israel Compared", "European Journal of Sociology", 43, 301-335, 2003.] ) provide immigration privileges to individuals with ethnic ties to these countries (so-called "leges sanguinis"). (See
Right of returnand Repatriation laws.) These citizenship laws seem to have been enacted by states wishing to guarantee a safe-haven to diasporapopulations assumed to be living under precarious conditions.Fact|date=January 2008
A Spanish law decreed under the rule of
Miguel Primo de Riverastates that SephardiJews have the right to apply for Spanish citizenship. This law was applied to thousands of Holocaust refugees during the Second World War and even to Sarajevo Jews during the War of Bosnia.Fact|date=January 2008
Comparison is sometimes made with laws in other countries that allow the return of families of former nationals. The
Greek nationality law, for example, is typical in permitting the easier acquisition of Greek citizenship by those with a grandparent who was a Greek national. The Israeli law differs from these in not requiring an ancestor who had Israeli citizenship.
Debate in Israel
In Israel, a debate continues over the Law of Return. Some people wish to retain it as it stands, others want to modify it, and a small minority wants to abolish the Law completely. Those who would abolish the Law believe that it grants Jews rights that members of other groups governed by the State of Israel do not have, [ Gail J. Boling. "Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return: An International Law Analysis." [http://www.palestine-pmc.com/details.asp?cat=3&id=467] Badil Information & Discussion Brief.
1 January 2001.] a situation which would be contrary to the spirit of a modern liberal democracy. They further claim that although the law did indeed contribute to immigration and absorption when Israel was established, it is no longer needed.Fact|date=February 2007 Proponents state that Israel is "Jewish and democratic" not just democratic, that it was established as a Jewish state and a refuge for the Jewish people, not as a pale copy of other world states.Fact|date=February 2007
In September 2007, the discovery of a violent Neo-Nazi cell in
Petah Tikva, made up of teenage immigrants from the former Soviet Union, led to renewed calls amongst politicians to amend the Law of Return.cite web|title=Sheetrit may deport alleged neo-Nazis|author=Rebecca Anna Stoil, Mark Weiss and Matthew Wagner|publisher= The Jerusalem Post|date= 9 September 2007|accessdate=2007-09-10|url=http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1188392567423] Effi Eitamof the National Religious Partyand the National Union, which represent the religious Zionist movement and have previously attempted to advance bills to amend the Law of Return, stated that Israel has become "a haven for people who hate Israel, hate Jews, and exploit the Law of Return to act on this hatred."cite web|title=Interior Minister: I'll consider revoking neo-Nazis' citizenship|author=Roni Singer-Heruti|publisher= Ha'aretz|date= 10 September 2007|accessdate=2007-09-10|url=http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/902093.html] On the other end of the political spectrum, MK Ahmed Tibiof United Arab Listand Ta'alcriticized the system's double-standard, stating that, "people immigrated to Israel and received automatic citizenship under the Law of Return, while citizens of Nazarethand Taibeare not allowed to visit their own relatives merely due to the fact that they are Arabs."
Who is a Jew?"Amongst those who are in favor of retaining the Law, controversy exists over its wording. The Law's definition of a "Jew" and "Jewish people" are subject to debate. Israeli and Diaspora Jews differ with each other as groups and among themselves as to what this definition should be for the purposes of the Law of Return. Additionally, there is a lively debate over the meaning of the terms "Jewish State" and "State of the Jews".
Discussion around the Law and its wording constantly reappears on private and public agendas in Israel and in the Diaspora. The Knesset has repeatedly debated proposals to amend the Law of Return, and it has indeed been amended a number of times over the years. These modifications reflect the changes that have taken place in Israeli society, the shifts that have taken place in political dialogue both inside Israel itself, and the political discourse between Israel and the Diaspora. The present law constitutes an expression of permanent trends as well as of the Israeli legislative system's ability to adapt itself to changing circumstances.
It is not only the Knesset, however, which has been repeatedly obliged to directly or indirectly address these issues. Over the years, many of Israel's interior ministers have examined the issue of the Law of Return and wavered as to how to apply it. The judiciary has also been called upon to express an opinion on matters relating to the Law. This burning and recurrent question in the country's political dialogue not only reveals but also exacerbates differences of opinion between Israelis.
One central issue is who has the authority over determining the validity of conversions to Judaism for purposes of immigration and citizenship. For historical reasons, the
Chief Rabbinate of Israel, under the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs, made this determination, but this arrangement is in question. This practice has met opposition among non-Orthodox religious leaders both within Israel and in the diaspora. Several attempts have been made to resolve the issue, the most recent being the Ne'eman Commission, but an impasse persists.
March 31, 2005, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled 7-4 that all conversions performed outside of Israel would be recognized by the authorities under the Law of Return, notwithstanding the Ne'eman Commission's view that a single body should determine eligibility for immigration. Orthodox religious leaders objected vehemently to this ruling, arguing that it would lead to fraudulent immigration applications.
Politics of Israel
Basic Laws of Israel
Who is a Jew?
Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law
*Population exchange in the Middle East
Palestinian right of return
* [http://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/return.htm The Law of Return] - The text of the law and its various amendments
* [http://www.ajc.org/atf/cf/%7B42D75369-D582-4380-8395-D25925B85EAF%7D/YakobsonRubinstein2005.pdf Democratic Norms, Diasporas, and Israel’s Law of Return] by Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20051127033448/http://www.irac.org/article_e.asp?artid=199 The problem is how to become an Israeli] by Amnon Rubenstein, "
* [http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=22&x_article=580 Judt Labels Israel "Anachronistic," Calls for Binational State]
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