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Likud said to oppose demand to abolish ‘grandchild clause’ in Law of Return

Netanyahu’s reported objection to legislation amendment that would significantly limit immigration to Israel is seen as attempt to avoid compromising Israel-Diaspora ties

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

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will oppose a demand from far-right and religious parties to abolish the so-called grandchild clause in the Law of Return, according to a Wednesday report.

The parties that submitted the request during coalition talks — the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties — believe the decision was made by Likud to avoid compromising Israel-Diaspora relations, the Kan public broadcaster said.

The report said the parties were weighing their options and considering whether or not to insist on this legislative move as part of their ongoing negotiations with Likud.

The “grandchild clause” in the Law of Return allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to immigrate freely to Israel so long as they do not practice another religion. Many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union obtain their citizenship under this clause.

Responding to the report, Matan Kahana, a National Unity MK who led the Religious Services Ministry in the outgoing government, insisted that in light of the number of non-Jews who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, the process of official conversion to Judaism must be streamlined, and noted that he had tried and failed to accomplish this during his tenure.

“Leaving the ‘grandchild clause’ as it is without addressing the issue of conversion will harm the Jewish identity of Israel (today, only 3,000 out of half a million candidates convert!),” Kahana tweeted.

“I’ve suggested that local authority rabbis be authorized to convert but apparently, the Rabbinate doesn’t trust the very rabbis *it has trained.* For God’s sake, we must find a way to significantly increase conversion according to Jewish law,” he said.

Then-Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana speaks during a Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on August 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Chairman of the Jewish Agency Doron Almog has warned that restricting Jewish immigration could alienate the Jewish diaspora.

“We believe that it is critical to ensure our relations with world Jewry remain intact, and that the everlasting commitment to enable Jews from all corners of the globe to make aliyah must be upheld,” Almog said in a statement earlier this month.

The Jewish Agency is on the record as supporting the Law of Return and dedicates a significant portion of its resources to encouraging all those who meet Israel’s citizenship eligibility requirements — including no small number of “grandchildren” — to immigrate to Israel.

Doron Almog, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, gives his inaugural speech after being elected in Jerusalem on July 10, 2022. (Jewish Agency)

The proposal to amend the Law of Return joins several contentious religion-and-state demands made during coalition negotiations thus far, which have included revoking state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism and overturning — at least in part — reforms to Israel’s kashrut authorities that were made under Kahana.

Meanwhile, Avi Maoz, the single lawmaker of the fringe Noam party and one of the Knesset’s most far-right politicians, is set to become the next government’s head of “Jewish identity,” following an agreement signed Sunday with Netanyahu.

Maoz, who holds non-pluralist Jewish views and anti-LGBT, sexist, and anti-Arab positions, has also said he wants to constrain eligibility for Jewish immigration to Israel by amending the Law of Return.

With control over that office, Maoz could make the process of proving eligibility for citizenship far more cumbersome than it already is and impose a higher barrier to entry that would keep out applicants when there is some ambiguity or uncertainty over their Jewish familial connection.

MK Avi Maoz, left, and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu after signing a coalition deal on November 27, 2022. (Courtesy, Likud)

He could not, however, unilaterally amend the law. Maoz said Monday he would follow the law when he assumes responsibility for the liaison organization to former Soviet Jewry, which he is to be granted in his coalition deal.

Netanyahu, whose bloc won 64 of the 120 Knesset seats on November 1, officially received a mandate to form a government on November 13, giving him 28 days to assemble a majority coalition. If he needs more time, he could seek a 14-day extension from President Isaac Herzog.

Carrie Keller-Lynn, Judah Ari Gross and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.

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