Israel – The Jewish Safe Haven

I always thought that Israel has the most advanced and human path to citizenship anywhere in the world. It is basically grants citizenship to any Jew, a spouse of a Jew, their children and their grandchildren upon arrival in Israel. Children of Israeli citizens are automatically Israeli citizens regardless of where they were born and live. No other country in the world accepts new citizens as easy as the State of Israel does (providing they can prove their Jewish heritage). Of course, in many cases it is difficult to prove that, such as the case was for many Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. In those cases the State of Israel went out of its way to accept them on shreds of evidence.

The reason that the State of Israel is going to such great effort to accept Jews as citizens is rooted in the history of the Jewish people. Israeli citizens feel that it is their duty and obligation to provide a safe haven for Jews who are discriminated against, or expelled from their homes, because of their religion. In some cases Israel launched clandestine operations, risking the lives of its own soldiers, to bring to Israel Jews who lived under distress in their home countries. The long history of the Jewish people provides plenty of examples where this law was needed and how it saves lives. The three recent examples shown below from Russia, Ethiopia, and France  show why it is so important to have a Jewish safe haven and why it is still relevant.

Russian Jews in the 1970s  

“…Anti-Zionist propaganda campaign in the state-controlled mass media and the rise of Zionology were accompanied by harsher discrimination of the Soviet Jews. By the end of 1960s, Jewish cultural and religious life in the Soviet Union had become practically impossible, and the majority of Soviet Jews were assimilated and non-religious.” []

“… A large number of Soviet Jews applied for exit visas to leave the Soviet Union, especially in the period following the 1967 Six-Day War. While some were allowed to leave, many were refused permission to emigrate, either immediately or after their cases would languish for years in the OVIR, Office of Visas and Registration, the MVD (Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs) department responsible for exit visas… During the Cold War, Soviet Jews were thought to be a security liability or possible traitors. To apply for an exit visa, the applicants (and often their entire families) would have to quit their jobs, which in turn would make them vulnerable to charges of social parasitism, a criminal offense. Many Jews encountered systematic, institutional anti-Semitism which blocked their opportunities for advancement. Some government sectors were almost entirely off-limits to Jews. In addition, Soviet restrictions on religious education and expression prevented Jews from engaging in Jewish cultural and religious life. While these restrictions led many Jews to seek emigration, requesting an exit visa was itself seen as an act of betrayal by Soviet authorities. Thus, prospective emigrants requested permission to emigrate at great personal risk, knowing that an official refusal would often be accompanied by dismissal from work and other forms of social ostracism and economic pressure.” []

Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s

“Since the seventeenth century, Jews were not allowed to own land and were treated poorly by their neighbors. By the middle of the twentieth century, the political situation for Jews in Ethiopia had worsened and Jews were blamed as scapegoats for any national misfortune that arose. In 1974, political turmoil left nearly 2,500 Jews dead and 7,000 homeless. By 1977, the situation had become so unbearable that groups of Jews began to flee the country and established refugee camps in Sudan. Soon after their emigration had begun, Jews caught traveling across Ethiopia were charged, imprisoned and tortured. But the exodus continued and the number of Jews living in squalid refugee camps in Sudan quickly rose into the thousands. After taking office in 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was eager to facilitate the rescue of Ethiopia’s Jews. Israel began selling arms to ruling dictator Colonel Mengitsu in exchange for allowing Ethiopian Jews to leave for Israel. In August and December of 1977, Begin asked Mengitsu to allow 120 Ethiopian Jews to board two Israeli military planes who emptied their weapons cargo in Ethiopia. Mengitsu agreed, setting an important precedent for the mass exodus of Operation Moses. In the early 1980s, practicing Judaism and teaching Hebrew was strictly forbidden. The government confiscated all Hebrew books, closed all Jewish schools and synagogues and arrested all Jewish students caught speaking to tourists. Ethiopian Jewish community leaders, or Kesim, were routinely harassed by the government, while other Jewish community figures were falsely imprisoned as “Zionist Spies”. Famine, a constant threat of war, forced conscription at the age of 12, high infant mortality rates, poor health care and terrible living conditions further threatened the survival of Ethiopian Jewry. Diaspora Jews prompted the government of Israel to apply pressure on the Ethiopian government to release Ethiopian Jews and attempt to rescue the thousands of Jews struggling to survive in both Sudan and Ethiopia…” []

French Jews in 2012 and 2013 

“More and more French Jews are buying homes in Israel amid fears of rising anti-Semitism in France. Many complain of being harrassed in public and feel the country is no longer a safe place to raise their children. In the wake of the Toulouse attacks, the wave of emigration is only likely to increase. Many must have been reminded of the treatment of Jews under the Third Reich. Shortly after the attack on a Jewish school in the southern French city of Toulouse on Monday, school principals in the city walked into classrooms and asked the Jewish pupils to come forward. “We ask you to leave the class and join the other Jewish children, who are in a locked and safe location.” It was intended as a precaution in response to a request from the Jewish community. But it also highlights the degree to which many Jews in France feel that they are a threatened and increasingly excluded minority. Every year, these feelings prompt thousands to take a dramatic decision, namely, to pack their belongings and move to a crisis zone: Israel. They feel safer there. []

March 14, 2013 – Vitry-Sur-Seine – Three men accosted a Jewish Kippa-wearing teenager on the subway, and threatened to do to him “what Mohammed Merah did.” They added that Merah “was right to do what he did…We will kill all of you Jews — one day we will kill a Jew.” Mohammed Merah is a reference to the 23-year-old Islamist who last year killed four Jews at a school in Toulouse.

March 12, 2013 – Lyon – A fake bomb was found near the Hillel Center, a Jewish institution in the city. Police successfully destroyed the device.

Februrary 4, 2013 – Marseille – A 20-year-old Jewish man wearing a Star of David pendant was mugged and robbed twice outside Marseille’s main train station. Two men on a scooter tore the chain off his neck and called him a “dirty Jew.” Moments later, another group of young men approached the victim and hurled anti-Semitic insults before stealing an MP3 player and 100 Euros. They also reportedly hit the victim. []

The Law of Return

“The Law of Return defines that all Jews possessing an Oleh’s certificate shall become Israel nationals and be allowed to immigrate to Israel. Such a certificate would almost automatically turn into Israeli citizenship upon arrival in Israel if so desired. In the 1970s the Law of Return was further expanded, and it was defined that the spouse of a Jew, the children of a Jew and their spouses, and the grandchildren of a Jew and their spouses would also be covered under the Law of Return and thus be eligible for an Oleh’s certificate provided that the Jew on behalf of whom they request the certificate did not practice a religion other than Judaism willingly (he or she may, however, be a non-observant Jew). In 1999, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that Jews or the descendants of Jews that actively practice a religion other than Judaism would not be allowed to immigrate to Israel as they would no longer be considered Jews under the provisions of the Law of Return. On April 16, 2008, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled in a case brought by a number of people with Jewish fathers and grandfathers whose applications for citizenship had been rejected on the grounds that they were Messianic Jews. The argument was made by the applicants that they had never been Jews according to halakha, and were not therefore excluded by the conversion clause. This argument was upheld in the ruling, and the government agreed to reprocess their applications.” []


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