The head of the Jewish Agency’s aliyah department in the United States has denied recent reports that he advocated a ban on the immigration of right-wing extremists to Israel.
A firestorm was set of in Israel late last week after an article in the newspaper Yediot Ahronot claimed that Gad Ben-Ari called for revising the Law of Return to render right-wing extremists ineligible for immigration.
Ben-Ari, who is now based in New York, said the remarks attributed to him were “completely misrepresented and express the exact opposite of what I said.”
Ben-Ari, the former media adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said he did favor a change in the Law of Return after the February 1994 massacre of Arabs in Hebron by U.S.-born Baruch Goldstein.
Ben-Ari said at the time that he thought that the law should be amended to bar the immigration of Jews active in organizations that are illegal in Israel, such as the extremist anti-Arab Kahane Chai.
But Ben-Ari said in an interview Friday that it would be inappropriate to suggest such a change at this time, given the Israeli political climate, in which “there is a very vocal opposition to the government’s policies.”
“Any attempt to discuss any change in the Law of Return in the current atmosphere in Israel would automatically be interpreted as an attempt to use the law for political purposes, to try to influence the political scene,” he said.
At the same time, Ben-Ari pointed to provisions in existing law that permit the Jewish Agency to bar immigrants deemed to “pose a danger to the state and to public safety.”
“On the basis of current law, our duty is to see those people would not make aliyah,” he said.
In practical terms, however, that is not applied to “politics or ideological positions,” Ben-Ari said.