A number of people from the former Soviet Union wishing to immigrate to Israel could be subjected to DNA testing to prove their Jewishness, the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday.
The policy was reported in Maariv on Monday, one day after the Israeli paper revealed that a19-year-old woman from the former Soviet Union was required to take the test to qualify for a Birthright Israel trip.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that many Jews from the FSU who were born out-of-wedlock can be required to bring DNA confirmation of Jewish heritage in order to be allowed to immigrate as a Jew.
A source in the PMO told Maariv that the consul’s procedure, approved by the legal department of the Interior Ministry, states that a Russian-speaking child born out-of-wedlock is eligible to receive an Israeli immigration visa if the birth was registered before the child turned 3. Otherwise a DNA test to prove Jewish parentage is necessary.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the decision to require DNA testing for Russian Jews is based on the recommendations of Nativ, an educational program under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office to help Jews from the FSU immigrate to Israel.
The issue cuts to the heart of Israel’s Law of Return, which allows anybody with a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse to move to Israel and be eligible for citizenship. Determining who is a Jew — a definition which has evolved along with the religion’s many streams — has led the interior Ministry to create a somewhat byzantine system of checks and rules and has sometimes led applicants, especially converts to Judaism, to fight for the right to immigrate in Israeli courts.
In the original report, Maariv revealed that the issue with Birthright participant Mashah Yakerson lay with the fact that her birth was only registered when she was 3 years old, therefore casting doubts on her parentage. But according to Monday’s report, the issue was compounded by the fact that she was born out-of-wedlock.
Birthright provides free 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults ages 18-26 who have never been to the country in an educational framework.
Dr. Shimon Yakerson said that after appealing the decision he was told that without a DNA test, his daughter would not be permitted to participate in the program or to immigrate to Israel.
“This is blatant racism toward Russian Jews,” Shimon Yakerson told Maariv.
Yakerson said that his daughter’s birth was registered late because he was working at a rabbinical college in the United States when she was born.
Foreign Ministry officials on Sunday told Maariv that they were puzzled by the DNA test requirements, because under the Law of Return, even adopted children of Jews are eligible for Israeli citizenship.
Yakerson has an older daughter, Dina, who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return in 1990.