On this day: Law of Return is passed to guarantee citizenship to all Jews

July 5 marks the 71st anniversary of Israel’s passage of the Law of Return, a law that allows any Jewish person to immigrate and obtain Israeli citizenship.

Based on Zionist principles, the law aimed to ensure that the State of Israel would be a Jewish state and a home for the Jewish people.

The law was then amended twice. The first time was on August 23, 1954, under then Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, when a provision was added to deny citizenship to certain people, such as those with a criminal record.

The second change was more significant and on March 10, 1970 under then Prime Minister Golda Meir, the law extended the right of return to those who were not considered Jews according to the Orthodox definition of halacha, but also to those who were married to a Jew. , converted to Judaism, or the grandson of someone who was Jewish. However, those who were not eligible for citizenship were those who converted to another religion despite still being Jews according to Halacha and, following a 1989 High Court ruling, Messianic Jews, as long as they do not have Jewish ancestry.

The reason for expanding the definition of being a Jew remains controversial, such as “Who is a Jew?” An argument that Israeli politicians and rabbinical authorities have continuously debated throughout history. A notable point of controversy about the expansion was that it referred to similar criteria used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Of course, they didn’t follow Halacha to determine if someone was Jewish. Another much more recent change came this year through a High Court ruling, when it was determined that Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel would make a convert eligible for citizenship. under the law of return. Until then, only those who converted through reformist and conservative movements outside of Israel were eligible.
The Law of Return continues to enjoy broad support among Jews in Israel today, with a 2016 Pew poll revealing that 98% of Israeli Jews wanted it to continue. It remains a matter of considerable controversy nonetheless, with some on the right wanting to limit it because they believed that many, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union, obtained citizenship although they were not halachia Jews, and some on the left who believe it is discriminatory against Arabs. and the Palestinians, who are denied an equivalent law.

Israel is not the only country with a right of return. In fact, the principle is very old, and a variant can even be found in the Magna Carta signed by King John of England in 1215.

Today, several countries have active laws granting a right of return, including Armenia, Finland, which grants citizenship to people with ancestors, and Liberia, which grants citizenship to anyone of African descent.

But three countries which grant the right of return especially for Jews are Portugal, Spain and Germany. The first two grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews if they can prove that they are descended from Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.

Germany has, for years, had a basic law to grant citizenship to those who lost their citizenship to the Nazis between 1933-1945 and to their descendants. Often, however, many candidates were rejected due to several loopholes in the legislation, but last month the Bundestag approved changes to make it easier for descendants of those who fled the Nazis to obtain citizenship.

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