Israel’s “Right of Return” Grandparent Clause is De-Judaizing the Jewish State – Eliminate It
January 26, 2023

Eliminating Clause Will Have No Impact on Americans and American Jews

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) National President Morton A. Klein and ZOA Director of Research and Special Projects Liz Berney, Esq. released the following statement:

Israel’s Law of Return was intended to allow Jews an automatic right to become citizens of the Jewish state. But the 1970 amendment to Israel’s “Law of Return,” gave non-Jews with only just one Jewish grandparent – who are not defined as Jews by any major Jewish movement – the automatic right to immigrate and become Israeli citizens, and it needs to be eliminated or modified. Among other problems, the “grandparent clause” is causing the Jewish State of Israel to be de-Judaized, and actually causing antisemitism and bringing Jew-haters into the Jewish state.

De-Judaizing the Jewish state: Largely due to the grandparent clause, approximately 500,000 non-Jews have settled in the Jewish state from FSU (former Soviet Union) countries, many of whom have no interest in anything Jewish. Reports based on government data indicate that, largely as a result of the grandparent clause, over 50% of all immigrants to the Jewish state last year were non-Jews, and 72% of immigrants from FSU countries into the Jewish state today are non-Jews. See here (citing Knesset Research and Information Center report) and here. This is causing a significant drop in the percentage of Jews living in Israel, endangering Israel’s continuity as the Jewish state.

The Israeli Immigration Policy Center’s analysis of data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) revealed that, primarily as a result of non-Jews entering Israel under the Law of Return’s grandparent clause, the Jewish state’s Jewish majority has been shrinking at a rate of 1% every 3 years.

Over the past 30 years, the Jewish state’s Jewish majority shrunk by 10%; and now stands at only 73.6%, reduced from 84%. (See2022 Immigration Leads to Decline in Israel’s Jewish Majority,” JNS, Jan. 16, 2023.)

Thus, if the grandparent clause remains in effect and the level of non-Jewish immigration under that clause continues at the same level it has for the past 30 years, Israel will eventually no longer be the Jewish state with a Jewish majority.

Non-Jews will have even more influence on determining the Jewish state’s leaders, laws and security decisions. Diaspora Jews who need or who want to live in the Jewish homeland may be moving to a majority non-Jewish state in the future.  

Eliminating the Grandparent Clause Will Have No Impact on Americans & Religious Streams: Notably, eliminating the grandparent clause would have no impact on American Jews, and virtually no impact on any Americans. Americans have rarely utilized the grandparent clause. Israel Hayom reported that over the past 10 years, only 67 non-Jews from the United States made Aliyah under the grandparent clause. (See Aliyah Laws Could Change, But Will US Jews Really be Affected?,” by Erel Segal, Israel Hayom, Jan. 22, 2023.)

Further, eliminating or modifying the grandparent clause will not change any Jewish stream’s definition of “who is a Jew.” The grandparent clause concerns family members of Jews, not “who is a Jew.” Moreover, no branch of Judaism defines “who is a Jew” to include non-Jews who have a single Jewish grandparent.

Orthodox Judaism embraces the Halacha (Jewish law) definition of a Jew as “someone who either is a child of a Jewish mother [matrilineal descent] or is a convert to Judaism who, after a period of serious and verified study of the Principles of the Faith and the laws of Judaism, has . . .: Accepted upon himself or herself . . . G-d’s Commandments”; Immersed him or herself in a ritual pool of water known as a “Mikveh,” symbolizing rebirth; [and] If a male, has undergone the process of “‘Brit Milah,’ circumcision.”

Conservative Judaism likewise defines a Jew as a child of a Jewish mother, or who underwent a conversion that included immersion in a mikveh, and for males, circumcision.

Reform Judaism defines “who is a Jew” as “a child of one Jewish parent [either a mother or father], who is raised exclusively as a Jew and whose Jewish status is established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. These acts include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, b’nai mitzvah (bar/bat mitzvah), and confirmation.”

A Law of Return Primarily for Jews Comports with Israel’s Founding Principles: Israel was re-established in 1948 as the Jewish state in the Jewish people’s historic and religious homeland. Israel’s Declaration of Independence declares that the Land of Israel “was the birthplace of the Jewish people”; that “the State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles”; that the “Jewish state . . . would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew”; and that “the right of the Jewish people to establish their state is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.”

Accordingly, Israel’s original “Law of Return,” enacted by the Knesset in 1950, granted the right to automatically immigrate and settle in the Jewish state solely to “every Jew” (with exceptions for engaging in anti-Jewish activity, and endangering public health or security).

In 1970, the Law of Return was amended to give the same immigration and settlement rights to the children, grandchildren and spouse of a Jew, as well as to spouses of a child or grandchild of a Jew. The intent behind expanding immigration rights was to allow mixed families to make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel, to address concerns about assimilation in the Diaspora. But instead of reducing assimilation, the clause ended up bringing massive numbers of gentiles, non-Jews who had no interest in anything Jewish, into Israel.

Only 10% to 16% of FSU non-Jewish immigrants to the Jewish state convert to Judaism. (See72% 2020 Olim From Former Soviet Countries Weren’t Jewish by Israeli Law,” by Zvika Klein, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 16, 2022.) These converts are of course very welcome and appreciated, but their numbers are woefully small. Streamlined conversion processes may help some, but, as a Russian Jewish website notes, streamlining conversion will make no difference to those who have no interest in converting. Further, Dr. Netanel Fisher, Head of the Department of Public Policy at the Academic Center for Law and Science, notes that it is “almost impossible to bridge this gap of half-a-million Israelis that aren’t considered Jewish.” (Id.) Eliminating or modifying the grandparent clause to focus on those sincere about converting and becoming part of the Jewish people can keep this almost impossible situation from becoming even worse.

Antisemitism and Fraudulent Grandparent Claims Problems: On the other hand, there are additional concerning problems, including fraudulent grandparent claims, and antisemitic non-Jewish FSU immigrants. Jewish immigrants who came to the Jewish state to escape antisemitism have been alarmed to experience the same antisemitism from their former non-Jewish countrymen who are now living in Israel. The website of a group called the Israeli Information and Support Center for Victims of Antisemitism contains numerous reports of antisemitic incidents (including calls for “death to the zhids”; harassment; physical attacks; praises of Hitler and fascism; and breaking synagogue fixtures) and fraudulent grandparent claims. (See, e.g., “Anti-Semitism in Israel (Investigation),” by Zalman Gilchenski, Dec. 30, 2002.)

In 2007, Israeli police arrested a neo-Nazi gang of eight Russian immigrants, with Nazi tattoos, which was vandalizing synagogues and attacking Jews and foreign workers in Israel. The gang leader stated “my grandfather was a half-Jewboy” and called for killing them all. The Guardian’s report on the arrests noted that many Russian immigrants to Israel who claimed Israeli citizenship under the grandparent clause “have little connection to Judaism and emigrated for economic reasons.” (“Israeli Neo-Nazi Ring Caught After Attacks on Synagogues,” by Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, Sept. 9, 2007.)

Dr. Gene Berkovich, a prominent Russian-Jewish physician and ZOA Coalition member who has been expressing concern about this issue for years, stated:

The grandparent clause resulted in hundreds of thousands of non-Jews from the former Soviet Union, who do not identify themselves as Jews and do not care one bit about the Jewish people or Israel, receiving Israeli citizenship and milking Israel for money or other benefits. It has been estimated that the number of such people and their non-Jewish family members exceeds half a million. Antisemitism among this group of people has been rampant, and well documented. Similar acts of antisemitism would not be tolerated and would be widely reported elsewhere, but are almost completely ignored when perpetrated by non-Jews from the former Soviet Union in Israel.”


Conclusion: It is thus time for reasoned reconsideration and elimination or modification/reform of the grandparent clause. We must do everything we can to ensure that the Jewish state remains Jewish.

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