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Liberman proposes easy entry for great-grandchildren of Jews, in wake of Ukraine war

Yisrael Beytenu party chief says measure would be temporary; also accuses other right-wing parties of planning to change Israel’s ‘Law of Return,’ which governs immigration

By Judah Ari Gross, 3 October 2022

Finance Minister and Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman on Monday proposed easing entry requirements to Israel for residents of the former Soviet Union with at least one Jewish great-grandparent, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Currently, under the Law of Return — the basis for Israel’s immigration policies — anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent or who has converted to Judaism is automatically eligible for citizenship.

Liberman proposed some form of special status for members of the “fourth generation,” someone with at least one great-grandparent who is Jewish, a far, far larger pool of people. He first raised the issue at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, arguing for this “fourth generation” to be eligible for citizenship in some way. According to the Kan news broadcaster, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the issue should be fleshed out in an in-depth inter-ministerial discussion, which was held on Monday.

“We are not proposing including the fourth generation in the Law of Return or giving them automatic citizenship, but rather to treat them on the basis of our historical obligation to humanitarian and Jewish values,” Liberman said, in an extended Twitter thread.

“The Jewish people experienced no shortage of tragedies and misery in the Second World War, which was at a time when no country accepted Jewish refugees. This is the fourth generation, the offspring of Jews who have a clear link to Judaism and a direct connection to their families living in Israel,” he said.

Liberman, whose party is generally seen as primarily representing the interests of Israelis from the former Soviet Union, said that such a system would allow “basic sustenance conditions” for members of this “fourth generation” through the end of the war in Ukraine.

Israel has seen a major increase in immigration from both Ukraine and Russia since Moscow launched its invasion. In the past week and a half, after Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s announced a “partial mobilization” and Russian men began being summoned for military service, Israeli officials and Jewish groups saw another large wave of interest in Russians looking to obtain Israeli citizenship.

It was not immediately clear how such a model for the “fourth generation” would look, if approved, though it would likely be some type of temporary residency status with a potential path toward citizenship.

Firing back at his detractors — specifically those in opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the far-right Religious Zionism party — Liberman noted that they, not he, planned to change the Law of Return by altering the eligibility requirements so that only someone with at least one Jewish parent, not grandparent, would be guaranteed Israeli citizenship.

“The understandings reached between Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Religious Zionism leaders Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben-Gvir are to cancel or change the Law of Return. It appears explicitly in the platform of the Religious Zionism party for the 25th Knesset elections. The significance is the end of Zionism and immigration, which is a central facet of the Zionist vision,” Liberman said.

Indeed, Religious Zionism’s platform explicitly states its intention to “remove the grandchild clause” in order to “prevent the entrance to Israel for those who are not Jewish.”

On Sunday, the government approved a budget increase of NIS 90 million ($25.4 million) to the Immigration and Absorption Ministry that would go toward providing additional housing solutions for immigrants, employment assimilation, education, health services, and other basic requirements to aid those who arrive in haste and with little to no preparation, including cash grants to immigrants.

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