A potential powder keg was lit Wednesday in Moscow by the Israeli minister of absorption, Yitzhak Peretz, who claimed that 30 to 35 percent of Soviet immigrants coming to Israel are not Jewish.
“I am in shock,” the minister said, according to a report Thursday by Yediot Achronot’s Moscow correspondent Amnon Kapelyuk.
Following a visit to the Israeli Consulate in the Soviet capital, Peretz said the problem necessitates a change in the Law of Return, which says any Jew is entitled to Israeli citizenship.
Soviet Jews have heavily intermarried over the 70 years of Communist rule and are frequently the offspring of non-Jewish mothers, which makes them non-Jews as defined by the Israeli rabbinate and Jewish tradition, apart from the Reform movement.
The Reform movement accepts as Jews the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, but this not accepted in Israel.
Peretz has long championed changing the Law of Return to say that a Jew is one born of a Jewish mother or converted according to halacha, or Jewish law.
An independent member of the present Likud-led government, Peretz quit the Orthodox Shas party last year.
REFUSED TO REGISTER CONVERT
As interior minister in the previous Likud-Labor government, he defied Israel’s High Court of Justice by refusing to register as Jewish an American immigrant converted by a Reform rabbi.
But now Peretz is complaining that not only are non-Jewish members of Soviet immigrant families gaining entry to Israel but also people with no family connections whatsoever to Jews.
Describing the Soviet Jewish phenomenon as a tragedy, Peretz told Yediot Achronot, “This hurts me. It is a source of endless trouble. We are filling the country with non-Jews which will result in intermarriage in Israel,” he said.
His statements drew angry reactions from Labor Knesset Members Arieh (Lova) Eliav and Ya’acov Tsur, who urged Premier Yitzhak Shamir to fire Peretz for his “irresponsible comments.”
Shamir himself, meanwhile, is engaged in a verbal duel with State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, who holds the government responsible for being unprepared to house or employ the wave of immigrants who are arriving, most from the Soviet Union.
Justice Ben-Porat, whose role is watchdog over government operations, charged in her annual report several months ago that the government failed to prepare adequately for mass immigration from the Soviet Union.
She repeated the charge this week, claiming that better advance planning could have eased the acute problems of unemployment and the housing shortage.
Shamir used the occasion of his visit to high school students in Kiryat Yam on Thursday to reply. Though he didn’t challenge the comptroller’s statements, Shamir accused Ben-Porat of a scattershot approach.
He said he could not remember a state comptroller who made such “comprehensive” charges without specifying at whom they were aimed.
“It is one thing to make such comments as an ordinary citizen, and they will be judged accordingly. But this is not the case when she speaks as state comptroller,” Shamir said.
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.