The Grandchild Clause in the Law of Return and the Initiatives to Repeal It (Legal Information)
What is the grandchild clause in the Law of Return, and who is interested in its repeal? The “grandchild clause” is a nickname for section 4(a) of the Law of Return, which grants children and grandchildren of Jews the right to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. In recent years more and more elected officials have been calling to change the law, and legislative initiatives have even been proposed for this purpose. As of the time of writing (2022), the section has not been changed, and the rights granted to grandchildren of Jews by the Law of Return are still in effect. This article presents a detailed explanation on the topic by attorney Michael Decker, a partner in our firm and an expert in Israeli immigration law.
The Law of Return and the grandchild clause – general background
The Law of Return is one of the shortest laws in the Israeli law book, but also one of the most important ones. This law significantly shapes the national identity of the State of Israel, by establishing basic guidelines regarding the right to immigrate and settle in Israel for any Jews who wish to do so. The Law of Return was originally enacted in 1950, shortly after the State of Israel was established. Since then, the law has been amended only twice, with the last amendment, in 1970, dealing with the “grandchild clause” which is the subject of this article.
Recent years have seen a resurgence in the public debate surrounding the grandchild clause in the Law of Return, which allows grandchildren of Jews to immigrate to Israel. Members of Knesset (mainly from right-wing parties) have made several legislative initiatives to amend the section in recent years. Many people follow the public debate on the issue, but do not fully understand the meaning of the grandchild clause in general, as well as the potentially fateful consequences to changing it.
The grandchild clause applies independently of the question of ‘who is a Jew’
As part of the 1970 amendment to the Law of Return, two sections were added to the law. One of those sections includes a definition for the term “Jew” in the Law of Return, stating that a Jew is “one who was born to a Jewish mother or converted, and is not a member of another religion.”
In the same amendment, another section was added to the law, which in recent years has been called the “grandchild clause”, although it does not deal only with grandchildren, but generally with the rights of family members of Jews. The section states that the rights of Jews according to the Law of Return (and mainly the right to make aliyah to Israel) shall also apply to the children and grandchildren of Jews, with the exception of Jews who converted to another religion voluntarily. This law allows many descendants of Jews to immigrate to Israel if they wish to do so, even if they themselves are not considered Jewish according to the Law of Return or Jewish law (halacha).
The grandchild clause was enacted to fulfill several objectives. The Supreme Court interpreted some of those objectives in a ruling issued in 2010. They include, among other things, encouraging immigration to Israel of people who have Jewish family ties; encouraging Jews in mixed marriages and mixed families to immigrate to Israel; preventing inequality in the legal status of immigrants from mixed-marriage families compared to fully Jewish immigrants; striking a balance between those who are Jewish by the Jewish-halachic definition and those who are Jewish by the national definition under the Law of Return; and promoting family reunification.
Legislative initiatives to change the grandchild clause
In recent years, the public debate surrounding the grandchild clause has increased, and several legislative initiatives have been put forward to change it. The Knesset members who support the change claim, among other things, that many grandchildren of Jews are in fact Gentiles who have no connection to Israel whatsoever. Others have expressed their concerns that the Jewish majority in Israel may shrink. These claims and legislative initiatives have drawn significant criticism, with opponents arguing that these claims are unfounded, and that amending the grandchild clause may actually reduce the number of immigrants to Israel, create negative discrimination against Jews in mixed families, and even harm those who are perceived as Jews in their countries of origin and feel threatened due to increasing anti-Semitism in the world today.
Our firm, which has been dealing with immigration to Israel for many years, has recently received many inquiries from concerned clients (many of them overseas) who wonder whether there has been a change in the Law of Return and whether the right of grandchildren of Jews to immigrate to Israel has been affected. As we explained above, for now there has been no change in the law. If a legislative amendment is passed which brings about a change in the law, we will publish an update on this issue. It is reasonable to assume that such an amendment would not pass quietly, and that the court would receive appeals on the subject, perhaps even on behalf of our firm.
The grandchild clause in the Law of Return – contact an attorney specializing in Israeli immigration law
In this article, we described the grandchild clause in the Law of Return, which has been the subject of lively public debate in recent years, as well as legislative initiatives to amend it. If you have any additional questions or need advice or legal assistance regarding the Law of Return and Immigration to Israel in general, you can contact our firm and we will be happy to help. Our law firm, with offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specializes in Israeli immigration law and provides clients in and outside of Israel with representation and comprehensive legal assistance in a variety of procedures before the Interior Ministry, various other Israeli authorities, and all levels of the courts.