The Law of Return at Sixty Years: History, Ideology, Justification
By: Ruth Gavison
The Law of Return, passed unanimously by the Knesset with much excitement and elation in 1950 on the day commemorating Theodor Herzl, establishes the principle that “every Jew is entitled to come to this country as an Oleh” and lays the foundation for the preference given to Jews in Aliyah and in the acquisition of citizenship in Israel.
The law is considered one of the primary expressions of Israel as a Jewish state. In this position paper the author rejects the principal claim of the law’s opponents, that the preference given to Jews in Aliyah to Israel is either unjustified or needs to be limited in time.
The author surveys the development of the specific arrangements stipulated by the Law of Return. She points to difficulties arising in three basic areas: the quasi-halachic definition of a “Jew” established by the 1970 amendment to law, according to which a “Jew” is one who was born to a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism and is not a member of another religion; the extension of Aliyah eligibility to include the family members of a Jew up to the third generation even if they themselves have no connection to the Jewish people; the fact that individuals who are eligible for Aliyah acquire citizenship immediately and automatically upon making Aliyah.
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