Paul Mirbach
Paul Mirbach

On the Conversion Law and the Law of Return

While everyone was making a fuss about the shelving of the Kotel compromise, the passing of the Conversion Law slipped by with hardly a vocal protest. These are my thoughts on the law.

From the ashes of the Holocaust, like a phoenix, the state of Israel was born. In July 1950, the first Knesset passed the Law of Return. Cognizant of our history of persecution and the fact that before Israel’s establishment, Jews were completely at the mercy of the grudging hospitality of host countries, with no shelter, Israel took upon itself the mantle of representative and spokesperson of the Jewish world and made a commitment that never again would Jews be put in that precarious and invidious position. This law, which gives Jews the right to live in Israel and gain Israeli citizenship upon arrival, was instrumental in the rehabilitation of the Jewish people the world over, providing them with a confidence that Jews were no longer dependent on the grace of others for their lives, that in the event of unbearable persecution, never again would they be forced to swallow their pride because they have nowhere to go. In appreciation of the provision of this security, Jews throughout the world opened their hearts and deep pockets, and gave generously to ensure Israel would survive and flourish. Thus a social contract between Israel and world Jewry was cemented in a disproportionate interdependent relationship. For recognition and potential acceptance, they gave BILLIONS of dollars over seven decades. There is hardly a single ambulance in Israel that was not bought with funds donated by someone living in the Diaspora. How many ambulances would Israel have at its disposal, if they hadn’t donated so generously?

In 1970, the law was extended to include people with one Jewish grandparent, or non-Jews married to Jews. The logic behind this is quite clear; the Nazi Mishling test denounced as Jews, as anyone who had one Jewish grandparent. Thus, it was fitting that this law, which was enacted to provide shelter from persecution to those Jews who had suffered so terribly from it, would adopt this very definition itself.

Fast forward 67 years, to a time when the grandchildren of those persecuted for their religion now sit in the Knesset, while the last child survivors of the Holocaust are entering their nineties, and Israel suddenly reneges on its commitment to world Jewry, and invalidates this social contract. In a sickening twist of irony, Israel decided to disqualify millions of Jews from its protection, for the sake of racial and religious purity. This country, which was built upon the tidal wave of the memory of six million victims of an ideology of racial purity, has now decided to make its safe shores inaccessible to perhaps half of the Jews in the world living outside Israel, because of its obsession to maintain racial purity. This country, which built a museum to constantly remind us of these victims, with money donated by Jews of all streams living outside Israel, and which displays the motto “NEVER AGAIN”, now places in potential jeopardy of persecution with no recourse, all those Jews, who are children or grandchildren of a converted mother, who was converted without the approval of Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, even if it was before this law was passed. And what of future generations? This country, who willingly accepted the service and sacrifice of Jews, children of one Jewish parent, who fought in Israel’s wars some of whom fell in order to keep Israel safe, and among those they fought to protect, are people, hundreds of thousands of people, ingrates, who prefer to study the same books, year in and year out, than take an equal share of the burden in keeping Israel safe – and who refuse to acknowledge them as brothers – now gives them the power to determine whether these Jews themselves can enjoy the protection of the country they fought for.

This law, which was passed with the approval of the son of one of the founding fathers of the Revisionist Zionist Herut party, is a blight on the record of a country which derives in part, the very justification of its existence from people who were the victims of a genocide, committed by believers in the sanctity of racial purity.

Oh, how my stomach turns.

About the Author
Paul Mirbach (PEM), made Aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz, transforming rocks and mud into a green oasis in the Gallilee. Paul still lives on Tuval. He calls it his little corner of Paradise.