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Law of Return

Law of Return

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The Law of Return (Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

: חוק השבות, ḥok ha-shvūt) is Israeli legislation, passed on 5 July 1950, that gives Jews the right of return
Right of return
The term right of return refers to a principle of international law, codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving any person the right to return to, and re-enter, his or her country of origin...

 and settlement in Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 and gain citizenship. In 1970, the right of entry and settlement was extended to people of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses.

Law


The Law of Return 5710-1950 was enacted by the Knesset
Knesset
The Knesset is the unicameral legislature of Israel, located in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.-Role in Israeli Government :The legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister , approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government...

, Israel's Parliament, on July 5, 1950. The Law of Return declares the right of Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 to come to Israel, claimed to be their ancestral homeland, and to facilitate their immigration
Immigration
Immigration is the act of foreigners passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence...

. The Law stated: "Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh
Aliyah
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

." Follow-up legislation on immigration matters was contained in the Nationality Law
Israeli nationality law
Israel's nationality law defines the terms through which one can be granted citizenship of the state of Israel. It also includes the Right of return for Jewish diaspora...

 of 1952. The Law of Return was modified in 1970 to include non-Jews with a Jewish grandparent, and their spouses.

The law since 1970 applies to those born Jews
Who is a Jew?
"Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which themselves have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions...

 (having a Jewish mother or maternal 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).

Purpose


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 Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

 in 1922, when charging Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 with the duty of establishing a Jewish National Home, and by the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 within the Partition Plan of 1947 which provided for establishment of Israel as a Jewish state.

Eligibility requirements


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
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

 definition, a person is Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish, or if he or she converts to Judaism. Orthodox Jews do not recognize conversions performed by Reform
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 or Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical 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
Aliyah
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

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."

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 persecution victims) can be denied the right of return, (e.g. Meyer Lansky, Victor Vancier
Victor Vancier
Victor Vancier , commonly referred to by his Hebrew name, Chaim Ben Pesach is an American political activist and the founder and director of the United States-based Kahanist organization, Jewish Task Force and the former National Chairman of the Jewish Defense League in the UnitedStates...

). The Law of Return also excludes any "person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion."

The Jewish Ancestry Amendment


The 1970 amendment was induced by the debate on "Who is a Jew" (until then the law did not refer to the question).
There are several explanations for the decision to be so inclusive. One 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
Nuremberg Laws
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany introduced at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party. After the takeover of power in 1933 by Hitler, Nazism became an official ideology incorporating scientific racism and antisemitism...

. As the Nuremberg Laws did not use a halakhic
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

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.

Furthermore, the clause in Amendment number 2, 4a, states,

"The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh under the Nationality Law, 5712-1952***, as well as the rights of an oleh under any other enactment, 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, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion."

Therefore a Jew who has voluntarily changed his religion is not considered a Jew according to the law of return, but would have been persecuted as a Jew under the Nuremberg laws regardless of his change of religion, and is still a Jew according to halacha (see "Who is a Jew" - section 1.3 - Jews who have practiced another faith), but is nevertheless ineligible to immigrate under the law of return.

Another explanation is the 1968 wave of immigration from Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, following an antisemitic campaign by the government. These immigrants were very assimilated and had many non Jewish family members.

The Israeli Rabbinate is a purely Orthodox body that is far more strict in defining 'who is a Jew'. This creates a situation in which thousands of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return's criteria, are ineligible for Jewish marriage by the Israeli Rabbinate .
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 Arab population, the law expanded the base group of those eligible to immigrate to Israel.
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.

Followers of Messianic Judaism


The Supreme Court of Israel
Supreme Court of Israel
The Supreme Court is at the head of the court system and highest judicial instance in Israel. The Supreme Court sits in Jerusalem.The area of its jurisdiction is all of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories. A ruling of the Supreme Court is binding upon every court, other than the Supreme...

 ruled in 1989 that Messianic Judaism
Messianic Judaism
Messianic Judaism is a syncretic religious movement that arose in the 1960s and 70s. It blends evangelical Christian theology with elements of Jewish terminology and ritual....

 constituted another religion (it is considered by most Christians and Jews to be a form of Christianity), and that people who had become Messianic Jews were not therefore eligible for Aliyah under the law.

On April 16, 2008, the Supreme Court of Israel
Supreme Court of Israel
The Supreme Court is at the head of the court system and highest judicial instance in Israel. The Supreme Court sits in Jerusalem.The area of its jurisdiction is all of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories. A ruling of the Supreme Court is binding upon every court, other than the Supreme...

 ruled 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
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

, and were not therefore excluded by the conversion clause. This argument was upheld in the ruling, and the government agreed to reprocess their applications.

Effect



Since 1950, 2,734,245 Jews have immigrated to Israel. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jews have received Israeli citizenship, as the law confers citizenship to all offspring of a Jew (including grandchildren).

Claims of Discrimination


Critics claim that the Law of Return runs counter to the claims of a democratic state.

Palestinians and advocates for Palestinian refugee
Palestinian refugee
Palestinian refugees or Palestine refugees are the people and their descendants, predominantly Palestinian Arabic-speakers, who fled or were expelled from their homes during and after the 1948 Palestine War, within that part of the British Mandate of Palestine, that after that war became the...

 rights criticize the Law of Return, which they compare with the Palestinian claim to a right of return
Right of return
The term right of return refers to a principle of international law, codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving any person the right to return to, and re-enter, his or her country of origin...

. These critics consider the Law, as contrasted against the denial of the right of return, as offensive and as institutionalized ethnic discrimination.

In June 2011, the Law came under scrutiny when a gay couple of a Jewish man, and a non-Jewish man made Aliyah to Israel. Although Jewish man quickly received citizenship, the decision of citizenship for his husband was delayed by the Ministry of the Interior despite the clause in the law saying the spouse of the Jewish immigrant must also be granted citizenship. . Within 2 months, the Ministry of the Interior granted citizenship to the non-Jewish husband as required by The Law of Return.

Messianic Jews also claim to be discriminated against.

Arguments in support of the Law of Return


Supporters argue that:
  1. The Law of Return is not the only one way of acquiring citizenship. For example, non-Jews can become citizens by naturalization
    Naturalization
    Naturalization is the acquisition of citizenship and nationality by somebody who was not a citizen of that country at the time of birth....

    , 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. The Law of Return was intended to deal with historic homelessness and persecution of Jews around the world.
  2. 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
    International law
    Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

    , including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
    Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
    The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is a United Nations convention. A second-generation human rights instrument, the Convention commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races...

     Article I(3) which allows for preferential immigration treatment of some groups, provided there is no discrimination against a specific group.
  3. While the purpose of the Law of Return is perhaps to keep Israel predominantly Jewish, an argument states that a world where Jews have been persecuted
    Persecution
    Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms. The inflicting of suffering, harassment, isolation,...

    , the concept of maintaining a Jewish state
    Jewish state
    A homeland for the Jewish people was an idea that rose to the fore in the 19th century in the wake of growing anti-Semitism and Jewish assimilation. Jewish emancipation in Europe paved the way for two ideological solutions to the Jewish Question: cultural assimilation, as envisaged by Moses...

     is 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.
  4. In addition to Israel, other countries including Germany
    Germany
    Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

     provide immigration privileges to individuals with ethnic ties to these countries (See Right of return
    Right of return
    The term right of return refers to a principle of international law, codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving any person the right to return to, and re-enter, his or her country of origin...

     and Repatriation laws
    Repatriation laws
    Repatriation laws have been created in many countries to enable diasporas to immigrate to their "kin-state". This is sometimes known as the exercise of the right of return. Repatriation laws give members of the diaspora the right to immigrate to their kinstate...

    ).
  5. Benjamin Pogrund
    Benjamin Pogrund
    Benjamin Pogrund is a South African-born author currently living in Israel.Brought up in Cape Town, he began a career as a journalist in 1958, writing for the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg, where he eventually became deputy-editor. The Rand Daily Mail was the only newspaper in South Africa at...

    , director of Yakar's Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem and member of the Israeli delegation to the United Nations World Conference against Racism, calls the law "unfair" from the Palestinian refugees' point of view, but sees the unfairness as having happened in other places too. Pogrund compares the flight/expulsion of Palestinians (both in 1948 and 1967) to Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, India and Pakistan.

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 some to abolish the Law completely. Those who would abolish the Law object to it because it grants Jews rights that members of other groups governed by the State of Israel do not have. Others argue that the law permits the entry of too many non-Jews, thereby undermining its purpose.

In September 2007, the discovery of a violent Neo-Nazi cell (Patrol 35
Patrol 35
Patrol 35 was an Israeli neo-Nazi organization led by Erik Bonite, who goes by the alias "Ely the Nazi". The group's members were aged 16 to 19 and it was based in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv...

) in Petah Tikva
Petah Tikva
Petah Tikva known as Em HaMoshavot , is a city in the Center District of Israel, east of Tel Aviv.According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2009, the city's population stood at 209,600. The population density is approximately...

, made up of teenage immigrants from the former Soviet Union, led to renewed calls amongst politicians to amend the Law of Return. Effi Eitam
Effi Eitam
Efraim "Effi" Eitam is an Israeli politician. A former leader of the National Religious Party, he later led a breakaway faction, Ahi, which merged into Likud in 2009. He served as a member of the Knesset between 2003 and 2009.-Biography:...

 of the National Religious Party
National Religious Party
The National Religious Party ) was a political party in Israel representing the religious Zionist movement. Formed in 1956, at the time of its dissolution in 2008, it was the second oldest surviving party in the country after Agudat Yisrael, and was part of every government coalition until 1992...

 and the National Union
National Union (Israel)
The National Union is an alliance of nationalist political parties in Israel. In the 2009 elections the National Union consisted of four parties: Moledet, Hatikva, Eretz Yisrael Shelanu, and Tkuma.-Background:...

, which represent the religious Zionist
Zionism
Zionism is a Jewish political movement that, in its broadest sense, has supported the self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state...

 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." On the other end of the political spectrum, MK Ahmed Tibi of United Arab List
United Arab List
The United Arab List , commonly known in Israel by its Hebrew acronym Ra'am , is a political party representing and supported by Israeli Arabs...

 and Ta'al
Ta'al
Ta'al is an Israeli Arab political party in Israel led by Ahmad Tibi.-History:Ta'al was founded by Tibi in the mid 1990s. It ran in the 1996 elections under the name Arab Union, but won only 2,087 votes . For the 1999 elections it ran as part of the Balad list. Tibi won a seat, and broke away from...

 criticized the system's double-standard, stating that, "people immigrated to Israel and received automatic citizenship under the Law of Return, while citizens of Nazareth
Nazareth
Nazareth is the largest city in the North District of Israel. Known as "the Arab capital of Israel," the population is made up predominantly of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel...

 and Tayibe
Tayibe
Tayibe is an Israeli Arab city in central Israel, 12 kilometers east of Kfar Saba. In 2007, it had a population of 36,800. Tayibe is part of the Triangle.-History:...

 are not allowed to visit their own relatives merely due to the fact that they are Arab
Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

s."

Thirty-six percent of Israelis polled said that deeper background checks on new immigrants would amount to racism against Jews from Russian speaking countries.

Applicability

See also Who is a Jew?
Who is a Jew?
"Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which themselves have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions...


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
Chief Rabbinate of Israel
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is recognized by law as the supreme halakhic and spiritual authority for the Jewish people in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate Council assists the two chief rabbis, who alternate in its presidency. It has legal and administrative authority to organize religious...

, 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.

On March 31, 2005, the Israeli Supreme Court
Supreme Court of Israel
The Supreme Court is at the head of the court system and highest judicial instance in Israel. The Supreme Court sits in Jerusalem.The area of its jurisdiction is all of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories. A ruling of the Supreme Court is binding upon every court, other than the Supreme...

 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.

See also

  • Aliyah
    Aliyah
    Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

  • Basic Laws of Israel
    Basic Laws of Israel
    The Basic Laws of Israel are a key component of Israel's constitutional law. These laws deal with the formation and role of the principal state's institutions, and the relations between the state's authorities. Some of them also protect civil rights...

  • Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law
    Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law
    The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law 5763 is an Israeli law first passed on 31 July, 2003 and most recently extended in June 2008...

  • Palestinian right of return
    Palestinian right of return
    The Palestinian right of return is a political position or principle asserting that Palestinian refugees, both first-generation refugees and their descendants, have a right to return, and a right to the property they or their forebears left or which they were forced to leave in what is now Israel...

  • Politics of Israel
    Politics of Israel
    The Israeli system of government is based on parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of government and leader of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Knesset. The Judiciary is independent of the executive...

  • Population exchange in the Middle East
  • Racism in Israel
    Racism in Israel
    Racism in Israel has been experienced by both Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Israel has broad anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit discrimination by both government and nongovernment entities on the basis of race, religion, and political beliefs, and prohibits incitement to racism. The Israeli...

  • Who is a Jew?
    Who is a Jew?
    "Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which themselves have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions...


External links