Israel’s Law of Return and the Debate of Altering, Repealing, or Maintaining Its Present Language

This note examines the factors that lead to the implementation of the Law of Return in Israel. The Law of Return plays an important role by permitting members of the Jewish faith to receive Israeli citizenship.The author begins by providing a history of the development of Israel as a nation and exploring the origins of its Law of Return. Next, he traces the historical impact of the Law of Return on the country and on those immigrating to this nation, with a special emphasis on those emigrating from Russia. Next, the author analyzes the recent movement toward amendment of the Law of Return. Religious leaders propose that the Law of Return should be amended to recognize immigrants as Jews (under religious law) only if the immigrants undergo an Orthodox conversion. The author notes that this proposal, however, could alienate Jewish Americans as well as Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. On the other hand, some politicians and intellectuals recommend a more radical reform of the Law of Return. Arguing that the Law of Return demonstrates an “intolerance for its minority population,” they recommend that the Law of Return be drastically changed or abolished.The author proposes that the two sides reach a compromise that requires Israel to establish the Orthodox-Conservative-Reform Conversion Institute. This institute would encourage the continued immigration of Jews to Israel because it would permit entire families to immigrate to Israel and eventually enable the non-Jewish members of the family to convert to Judaism. Such an institute will help alleviate the concern that while some immigrants are considered to be Jewish in their home coun-try, these same individuals may not be considered Jewish under Israel’s Law of Return. An issue of this magnitude affects immigrant identity within the community as well as immigrant prospects for marriage (since interfaith marriage is looked down upon).The author argues that compromise remains the best solution since the complete abolishment of the Law of Return would be too radical considering the fact that Israel has yet to achieve peace with several of its neighboring nations. Until peace is established, Israel needs to maintain the current law.

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