Just imagine what would have happened if the labor migrants or refugees from Eritrea (let’s leave the answer to the question what they really are to another article) announced all of a sudden that they were converting to Judaism. Let’s assume even further that their conversion would be supervised by an Orthodox rabbi. The inevitable outcome would be that those soon-to-be-deported illegal aliens would immediately be granted Israeli citizenship, based on the Law of Return. In addition to that, they would be offered various freebies, ranging from health insurance that includes everything from cancer medication to fertility treatment, through subsidized housing, and up to tax exemption on cars. It is hard to tell if Eritreans do not convert in large numbers, because they do not believe that the Zionist law would be applied to them on its face value, or because they feel deeply Christian, but the plausible scenario raises tough questions about Israel’s immigration policy.
Israel does not have and never had a rational immigration policy. All we have is the 1950 Law of Return law which grants any Jew, a son of a Jew, or even a grandson of a Jew, the right to settle down and gain financial perks that are not given to citizens by birth. This makes Israel the only nation where hard working citizens subsidize newcomers who have contributed nothing to the country and there is no guarantee that they will ever contribute.
Besides being “a symbolic Zionist reply to Hitler” that defines Jews in a way that literally replicates the definition of the Nuremberg Race Laws – the Law of Return might have been needed at the time to solve the problem of Holocaust survivors who, after World War II had ended, resided in temporary refugee camps and were either unable to return to their homes or unwilling to stay in Europe because of the trauma. All of these Holocaust survivors found shelter in Israel or abroad decades ago. Currently, the law of return serves as an upgrade route for third-world fakirs who would never be given work visa, let alone citizenship, by any other first-world country. We accept them (as long as they can prove that a tiny amount of Jewish blood runs in their veins) and cover their absorption costs. The Law of Return costs the Israeli tax payer no less than four million shekels annually. Nonetheless, whenever the idea of abolishing this law is raised the automatic answer is that the national raison dêtre is to keep Israel a safe harbor for Jews who suffer from anti-Semitism somewhere in the world. Yet, in practice, most of those who benefit from of this law do not suffer from anti-Semitism and have very remote connection to Judaism. Last year, for instance, the number of Olim from former Soviet Republics (most of them not Jews) was six times larger than the number of Olim from France, even though anti-Semite incidents in France are far more frequent than in Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan. One has to be blind not to notice the strong correlation between poverty in one’s homeland and the tendency to discover that your grandmother was Jewish and make Aliya. A middle-aged Ethiopian Jew complained recently in the media that his ninety-nine years old (!) grandmother is unable to make Aliya because the state of Israel does not allocate enough funds to cover the nursery expenses related to her absorption. While the wishes of a grandson to see his grandmother moving in next door to him need no clarifications, it is difficult and even impossible to see what benefits the country would get from covering the relocation costs of ultra elderly.
People are free to make a wish where they want to live, but a country has the right to open or close the door to immigrants based on its needs and not on their wishes. When Israel needs talented cyber experts and experienced nurses – it makes no sense to absorb unemployed pensioners – even if their grandfather might have been prosecuted by the Nazis. After 70 years of independence, it is about time to stop pegging our immigration policy to Hitler and to replace the Law of Return by a non-racist rational immigration policy that would bring here skilled workers with solid economic potential and not grandchildren of Jews who have no options to settle down elsewhere.