Israel's Religious Right Pushes for Restrictive Changes to Law of ReturnBreaking News
tags: Jewish history, Israel, immigration, Zionism
Julia Rodbell was teaching at a high school in Dallas when a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Rodbell was shaken by the antisemitic symbols she saw among white nationalists in the crowd, disturbed by the quiet apathy to the event in her city, and, for the first time in her life, felt afraid to be a Jew in the United States.
In the following weeks, she enrolled in a master’s program at Tel Aviv University; when it was over, she made her immigration to Israel official.
“I looked around the world at all the places it was unsafe to be a Jew, and, suddenly, America was one of them,” said Rodbell, 26, a day after receiving her Israeli government-issued immigrant documents. “In Israel, I feel comfortable. I feel at home.”
Rodbell is one of nearly 4,000 Jews who emigrated from the United States to Israel in the past year. But she has arrived just as the most religiously fundamentalist government in the country’s history comes to power, with plans to ban the immigration of Jews like her. Rodbell’s mother is not Jewish, so she does not fit the strictest, Orthodox criteria for being a Jew.
The contentious initiative could strip at least 3 million Jews around the world of their right to Israeli citizenship, according to Israeli media. It is championed by Religious Zionism, a bloc of once-fringe, far-right politicians that is slated to be the second largest in the incoming government, after Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.
Bezalel Smotrich, Religious Zionism’s leader, promised earlier this month to change Israel’s immigration policy, which was passed unanimously in 1950 to deliver on the promise of a Jewish homeland in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
“It is a social and Jewish time bomb that must be dealt with,” Smotrich said of the policy in an interview with the ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol Barama this month.
Israel’s Law of Return guarantees citizenship to any Jew, from any country in the world, who is able to prove a connection to at least one Jewish grandparent. It enabled the immigration of some 900,000 Jews from other parts of the Arab world, more than a million Jews escaping the collapse of the Soviet Union and tens of thousands more fleeing religious persecution in Ethiopia.
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