Grandchild Clause is harming the Jewish state; eliminate it – opinion

The Law of Return’s Grandchild Clause could be responsible for an ever-shrinking Jewish majority.

UKRAINIANS fleeing the war arrive on aliyah at Ben-Gurion Airport last year. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

The Law of Return was intended to allow Jews an automatic right to become a citizen of the Jewish state.

But the 1970 amendment to Israel’s “Law of Return” – which allows non-Jews with only one Jewish grandparent, who is not defined as a Jew by any major Jewish movement, the automatic right to immigrate and become Israeli citizens – needs to be eliminated or modified.

Among other problems, the Grandchild Clause is causing the Jewish state of Israel to be dejudaized, and actually causing antisemitism and bringing Jew-haters in.

Largely due to the clause, approximately 500,000 non-Jews have settled in the state from FSU (former Soviet Union) countries, many of whom have no interest in anything Jewish. Reports based on government data indicate that, largely as a result of the clause, over 50% of all immigrants to the Jewish state last year were non-Jews, and 72% of immigrants from FSU countries into the Jewish state today are non-Jews.

This is causing a significant drop in the percentage of Jews living in Israel, endangering Israel’s continuity as the Jewish state.

New immigrants from USA and Canada arrive on a special ” Aliyah Flight 2016” on behalf of Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, at Ben Gurion airport in central Israel on August 17, 2016, (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

The shrinking Jewish majority

The Israeli Immigration Policy Center’s analysis of data from the Central Bureau of Statistics revealed that, primarily as a result of non-Jews entering Israel under the Law of Return’s Grandchild Clause, the Jewish state’s Jewish majority has been shrinking at a rate of 1% every three years.

Over the past 30 years, the state’s Jewish majority shrunk by 10%; and now stands at only 73.6%, reduced from 84%.

Thus, if the Grandchild Clause remains in effect and the level of non-Jewish immigration under that clause continues at the same level as it has for the past 30 years, Israel will eventually no longer be the Jewish state with a Jewish majority.

Non-Jews will have even more influence on determining the Jewish state’s leaders, laws and security decisions. Diaspora Jews who need or who want to live in the Jewish homeland may be moving to a majority non-Jewish state in the future.

Notably, eliminating the clause would have no impact on American Jews, and virtually no impact on any Americans. Americans have rarely utilized the clause. Israel Hayom reported that over the past 10 years, only 67 non-Jews from the US made aliyah under the clause.

Further, eliminating or modifying the grandparent clause will not change any Jewish stream’s definition of “who is a Jew.” The clause concerns family members of Jews, not “who is a Jew.” Moreover, no branch of Judaism defines “who is a Jew” to include non-Jews who have a single Jewish grandparent.

Orthodox Judaism embraces the Halachic definition of a Jew as “someone who either is a child of a Jewish mother [matrilineal descent] or is a convert to Judaism who, after a period of serious and verified study of the Principles of the Faith and the laws of Judaism, has… accepted upon himself or herself… G-d’s Commandments”; immersed him or herself in a ritual pool of water known as a ‘mikveh,’ symbolizing rebirth; [and] if a male, has undergone the process of ‘brit milah,’ circumcision.”

Conservative Judaism likewise defines a Jew as a child of a Jewish mother, or who underwent a conversion that included immersion in a mikveh, and for males, circumcision.

Reform Judaism defines “who is a Jew” “as a child of one Jewish parent [either a mother or father], who is raised exclusively as a Jew and whose Jewish status is established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people” is Jewish. These acts include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, b’nai mitzvah (bar/bat mitzvah) and confirmation.”

FRENCH JEWS arrive on aliyah at Ben-Gurion Airport, including a person who kisses the ground of Israel. Today, more than four out of every 10 Jews in the world live in Israel. (credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

Israel was re-established in 1948 as the Jewish state in the Jewish people’s historic and religious homeland. Israel’s Declaration of Independence declares that the Land of Israel “was the birthplace of the Jewish people”; that “the State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles”; that the “Jewish state… would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew”; and that “the right of the Jewish people to establish their state is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.”

Accordingly, Israel’s original Law of Return, enacted by the Knesset in 1950, granted the right to automatically immigrate and settle in the Jewish state solely to “every Jew” (with exceptions for engaging in anti-Jewish activity, and endangering public health or security).

In 1970, the Law of Return was amended to give the same immigration and settlement rights to the children, grandchildren and spouse of a Jew, as well as to spouses of a child or grandchild of a Jew. The intent behind expanding immigration rights was to allow mixed families to make aliyah, to address concerns about assimilation in the Diaspora. But instead of reducing assimilation, the clause ended up bringing massive numbers of gentiles, non-Jews into Israel who had no interest in anything Jewish.

Only 10% to 16% of FSU non-Jewish immigrants convert to Judaism. These converts are of course very welcome and appreciated, but their numbers are woefully small. Streamlined conversion processes may help some, but, as a Russian Jewish website notes, streamlining conversion will make no difference to those who have no interest in converting.

Further, Netanel Fisher, head of the Department of Public Policy at the Academic Center for Law and Science, notes that it is “almost impossible to bridge this gap of half a million Israelis who aren’t considered Jewish.” Eliminating or modifying the Grandchild Clause to focus on those sincere about converting and becoming part of the Jewish people can keep this almost impossible situation from becoming even worse.

On the other hand, there are additional concerning problems, including fraudulent grandparent claims, and antisemitic non-Jewish FSU immigrants. Jewish immigrants who came to the Jewish state to escape antisemitism have been alarmed to experience the same antisemitism from their former non-Jewish countrymen who are now living in Israel.

The website of a group called the Israeli Information and Support Center for Victims of Anti-Semitism contains numerous reports of antisemitic incidents (including harassment; physical attacks; praises of Hitler and fascism; and breaking synagogue fixtures) and fraudulent grandparent claims.

In 2007, Israeli police arrested a neo-Nazi gang of eight Russian immigrants, with Nazi tattoos, who were vandalizing synagogues and attacking Jews and foreign workers in Israel. The gang leader stated “my grandfather was a half-Jewboy” and called for killing them all. The Guardian’s report on the arrests noted that many Russian immigrants to Israel who claimed Israeli citizenship under the Grandchild Cause “have little connection to Judaism and emigrated for economic reasons.”

It is thus time for reasoned reconsideration and elimination or modification/reform of the Grandchild Cause. We must do everything we can so that the Jewish state remains Jewish.

The writer is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)

April 28, 2023 | 3 Comments »

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  1. I’m baffled as to why anyone with antisemitic views would want to live in Israel, assuming they’re not crypto terrorists. If the grandfather clause included serious vetting as to political background and activities, where possible, perhaps this problem could be eliminated. But I’d like to suggest two further steps: first, the conversions made by Reform or Conservative rabbis ought to be recognized, if they are not already. Many of these conversions involve lengthy courses of study and immersion in the mikveh. After taking such a step, one can reasonably conclude that the convert is sincere and identifies as a Jew, so there should be no problem with accepting them as citizens. Secondly, however, could there be a two-step process here, similar to that of other countries where migrants come to live and work? If the vetting process has weeded out possible antisemites and terrorists but the “grandchild” is not Jewish, and has not expressed the wish to convert, perhaps a residency permit could be granted, similar to the green card that migrants to America can apply for. Such a permit could ensure that the new resident is able to live and work in Israel, to apply for any welfare that may be available if they should need it, and to be secure in their residency so that they cannot be made to leave, as long as their behaviour is acceptable to the State. Full citizenship, however, including voting rights, would be reserved only for Jews, migrants who have undergone a conversion process and now identify fully as Jews. It would mean a two-tier system of residency, and many might object to this, but such a system would ensure that those allowed to vote in Israel, and thus determine government policies, were Jews.

  2. Most migrants to the US, Australia, NZ, and Canada were “economic” and not into Jefffersonian theory nor particularly keen on religion these two centuries.
    If there are occasional bad apples among the recent olim to Israel congratulations to the police for catching and deporting them after a spell in chokey if destructive; BUT we live in an age when religion has lost its grip on many because the clergy are a lifetime behind and the rabbinate in particular by their narrow education ignorant of the science which drives our economy and so do not know how to cope nor persuade people into religious affiliation.
    This will be where Israel will earn its spurs in Jewish history besides the modern economy. Can Israel and the rabbinate or school staff if nobody else make Jewish identity something more than just enjoying festival meals and weddings in an age when astronomy puts God very far away???? If people migrate to Israel we are winning after centuries of autos da fe and the Shoah so do NOT look a gift horse in the mouth BUT train it ! Most people assimilate to the local majority so it should not be too difficult to educate these people to join in. That also goes for a lot of Jews born to Jewish mothers who are not exactly great at observance and Jewish studies. However, “Slowly slowly catchee monkey,” needs some tact and purposeful positive action. Playing Shammai when we need Hillel on the Beth Din helps nobody.

  3. is it possible that instead of making a widespread ban against those with only one grandparent who was Jewish, that more intense screening could be done? When I made aliyah, even though I had proof that both parents were Jewish, I stil had to be investigated, have an interview with a rabbi who had to sign that I was Jewish, and more. Russian friends who made aliyah over 12 years ago told me that it was forbidden for them to even have a menorah for Chanukah, so it’s not fair to require them to be observant. Maybe in some locations it was possible, but not everywhere. Blocking all of the Russians affected my be easier, but some deserving Jews will also end up being blocked. I know one who is not observant, but he contributed much to Israel by his service in the IDF, which is no small thing. So can we do more individual screening and welcome those who will love Israel?