Far-right Noam MK submits fresh bill to remove grandchild clause from Law of Return

Avi Maoz files proposed amendment despite similar legislation failing to advance; Netanyahu has said he doubts such a law will pass

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Noam party leader Avi Maoz speaks in the Knesset plenum on December 29, 2022, ahead of the swearing-in of the new government. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Noam party leader Avi Maoz speaks in the Knesset plenum on December 29, 2022, ahead of the swearing-in of the new government. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

A far-right lawmaker has submitted a bill to the Knesset that proposes that eligibility for Israeli citizenship, currently granted to Jews, their spouses and their first- and second-generation descendants, be denied to grandchildren of Jews.

Avi Maoz, head of the one-seat hardline Noam party, submitted the bill last week, proposing to amend the Law of Return, which sets the eligibility parameters for citizenship.

The bill, the latest push by Orthodox politicians to stem the immigration of people who are not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law, does not seem to have the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. But it may complicate its relationship with some of its hardline coalition partners, as well as have potential ramifications for Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jews.

“The objective of this amendment is to limit the rights of [immigrating Jews] so that their only descendants eligible for citizenship are children, not grandchildren,” the bill states. “It’s meant to prevent one of the greatest absurdities in the Israeli lawbook: that its most Jewish law legitimizes mass immigration by non-Jews.”

Similar bills, including by Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party — on whose ticket Noam entered the Knesset following November’s election — have failed to progress due to Likud’s apparent lack of support. A clause of the coalition agreement that states the Law of Return would be amended by March 31 has so far been ignored.

In an interview in December with NBC, Netanyahu answered “no” when asked whether he would change the Law of Return — despite the coalition deal promise. “It’s going to be a big debate but I have pretty firm views. I doubt we’ll have any changes and that’s something that’s going to require real careful deliberation and you don’t come off and do these things,” Netanyahu said.

Ukrainian immigrants to Israel who fled fighting in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Lawmakers in the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties have often spoken supportively of such an amendment to the law. Immigrant and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer of Religious Zionism said earlier this year that he believes the Law of Return “needs to be fixed,” while Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli of Likud said he would not rule out changes to the law.

In November, William Daroff, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, appeared to oppose changes to the law, which he and many others see as a guarantee of safe haven against antisemitic persecution for descendants of Jews.

“The Law of Return is a bedrock of Zionism. Our forbearers took the Nuremberg laws and said if one grandparent was enough to kill you, it’s enough to let you in,” Daroff said.

The Law of Return, which was passed in 1950, did not extend to grandchildren but was amended to include them in 1970. Whereas many in Israel and beyond believe that this amendment was a response to the Nazi racial laws that extended to grandchildren of Jews, others dispute this interpretation, citing, among other arguments, the absence of any reference to the Nazis in the 1970s amendment.

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