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Debate Grows in Israel Over Non-Jewish Immigrants, Who Are Called An "Abomination" By Ultra-Orthodox Leaders

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 2000

The Law of Return must be tightened to prevent an influx of non-Jewish immigrants who will threaten the Jewish nature of the state of Israel, says Eli Yishai, leader of the Shas Party.  

The Jerusalem Post (Dec. 3, 1999) reports that, "He was speaking on the day after Shas activists in Beit Shemesh publicly accused immigrants from the former Soviet Union of bringing `diseases' into the country and `flooding Beit Shemesh with abomination'...Beit Shemesh Deputy Mayor Moshe Abutbul (Shas) went further, raising the possibility of `separate towns for Russian gentiles.'"  

The fact that as many as 50 percent of recent immigrants are not halachically Jewish has led Yishai to the view that immigration laws must be tightened. "There"s no doubt hundreds of thousands of additional non-Jews will make cooperation between Israelis very difficult," he warned.  

Yishai's top priority, the Post states, "is the removal of the clause in the Law of Return which affords grandchildren of Jews the right to immigrate. Tens of thousands of non-Jews enter on this basis, Yishai said. The conspicuous increase in incidents of incitement against new immigrants from the former Soviet Union is leading a growing number of Knesset members to believe the time is ripe to discuss a reform of the Law of Return...several members of the Knesset said the only way to ensure the longevity of the Jewish people in Israel is by abolishing the section of the law which offers the right of return to the non-Jewish grandchildren of Jews....United Torah Judaism's MK Shmuel Halpert described non-Jewish immigrants as a `fifth column."'  

"This needs a serious debate free from headlines," said Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. But Absorption Minister YuIi Tamir said there must be no change in the status quo. The Law of Return, she said, was intended to open Israel to Jews, but not necessarily according to the halachic definition. This flexible approach must bc retained, she said.  

Editorially, the Jerusalem Post (Nov. 25, 1999) criticized the bigotry being shown against non-Jewish immigrants: "It was Judaism, after all, which introduced the concept of a universal god in whose image all humanity were created with equal and infinite value. It is Jews who for centuries were victims of vicious stereotypes that were the antithesis of the universalistic ideal that Judaism sought to cultivate. Now in Israel, of all places, in the name of the Jewish character of the state, of all causes, Shas's leadership is sowing hatred of the `other.' "

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