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Incoming immigration minister says Law of Return ‘needs to be fixed’

Religious Zionism’s Ofir Sofer doesn’t elaborate on plans, asks for ‘grace period’ to study issue before attempting changes, including to controversial ‘grandparent clause’

Jewish Home and National Union alliance member MK Ofir Sofer, at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jewish Home and National Union alliance member MK Ofir Sofer, at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A far-right lawmaker tapped to serve as the next minister of immigration and absorption called on Wednesday to amend legislation that confers automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews and some of their descendants.

“It seems that the Law of Return needs to be fixed in some way or another,” Religious Zionism MK Ofir Sofer told Army Radio, without elaborating as to why.

Sofer said he needs to first assume the ministerial role, “and learn all of the details — I know the issues, but when I study them in depth I can address them differently.”

Asked about the controversial “grandparent clause,” by which anyone with one Jewish grandparent can be granted Israeli citizenship so long as they don’t practice another religion, Sofer said it was “very complicated” and that he will need a “grace period” in which to study it in-depth.

Many immigrants to Israel, particularly but not only from the former Soviet Union, obtain citizenship under this provision of the Law of Return.

The religious parties in the expected new government — Shas, United Torah Judaism, Otzma Yehudit, Noam and Religious Zionism — and at least one lawmaker in incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party support canceling the grandchild clause, thereby restricting immigration only to people born to Jewish parents.

Such a change is viewed positively by those who want to limit the number of immigrants who are not considered Jewish under the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law, which only recognizes matrilineal descent. Doron Almog, who is chairman of the Jewish Agency that promotes immigration to Israel, has warned that restricting Jewish immigration could alienate the Jewish diaspora.

Illustrative: Immigrants fleeing from war zones in the Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office, at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Despite the demand by its allies, Likud is expected to oppose a move to abolish the grandfather clause, the Kan public broadcaster reported last week. Likud is the largest party in a right-religious bloc that won a majority of Knesset seats in the November 1 election and is now negotiating to form the next government.

Asked about potentially amending the Law of Return in an interview Sunday, Netanyahu said he “doubts” the law will be changed but did not explicitly rule it out.

On Tuesday, a senior Likud lawmaker warned that amending the grandchild clause in any way could lead to the demise of the entire Law of Return.

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