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Likud’s Edelstein: Scrapping ‘grandchild clause’ will lead to Law of Return’s demise

Lawmaker born in USSR warns that demand by prospective coalition partners will lead to slew of further changes until entire law granting automatic citizenship to Jews crumbles

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein speaks in the Knesset on December 6, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein speaks in the Knesset on December 6, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday criticized his party’s prospective coalition partners for demanding to abolish the so-called grandchild clause in the Law of Return, which would stiffen the conditions to automatically qualify for citizenship.

Speaking at the Knesset during an event on aliyah, the Hebrew term for Jewish immigration to Israel, Edelstein — who himself immigrated from the Soviet Union — warned that tampering with the clause in any way could lead to the demise of the entire Law of Return.

“Let’s not turn it into a Basic Law. Let’s not try to change part of it. Let’s not try to improve it. Leave it in peace,” he urged.

Edelstein’s remarks represented some of the first public remarks by a member of the Likud party against the proposal by the religious parties to change the Law of Return, which effectively sets Israel’s immigration policies, specifically to revoke the so-called “grandchild clause.”

That clause 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, particularly but not only from the former Soviet Union, obtain citizenship under this aspect of the Law of Return.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, as well as the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit factions, have demanded changes to the law during coalition talks with presumptive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

“I hear a lot of talk about the need and demands to change the Law of Return’s grandchild clause. I want to say this to you: In five years there will be no Law of Return in Israel,” Edelstein said, as others will demand further changes for various reasons.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy of the Yesh Atid party, who is set to be replaced next week, backed Edelstein’s remarks.

“This house must not touch the Law of Return,” Levy said.

Otzma Yehudit MK Amichai Eliyahu argued to the Knesset that part of the reason for wanting to adjust the rules is to prevent large sums of money being spent on “people who afterward leave the country.”

Otzma Yehudit MK Amichai Eliyahu speaks in the Knesset on December 6, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

“There is no cost-benefit [consideration] on immigration,” Levy retorted. “There is only benefit.”

Levy went on to note the contribution that the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union has made to the country over the past several decades.

“Come as much as you want,” he said, in remarks addressed to Jews in the Diaspora. “Grandchildren, great-grandchildren, as much as you want, you will be welcome.”

Fellow Likud MK Shlomo Karhi objected to Edelstein’s stance in a tweet, arguing that the original justification for the “grandfather clause” was to not force Jews to face the “impossible” choice between making aliyah and living with their non-Jewish family members, adding that it was no longer relevant.

“The Law of Return was drafted in days when Israel was a poor and persecuted country, and almost nobody imagined that many would immigrate to it for economic reasons,” Karhi wrote.

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi attends an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Now, many decades later, the reality has changed and those facing that dilemma have long made their choice, he argued: “The reality in recent years, and this is undisputed, is that this law is exploited by many non-Jews — who have severed any connection with the Jewish nation and its traditions — to immigrate here for economic reasons.

“Seventy-two percent of immigrants in 2020 aren’t Jewish,” he said. “41% of immigrants this past year received a passport and benefits and returned to their home countries. This is not only a waste of public money, it is an existential threat to the future of the Jewish nation in this country, with rampant intermarriage and assimilation. It’s time to fix [this], before the damage is irreversible.”

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.

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.

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