JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s haredi Orthodox interior minister was accused of racism after saying that he regrets the immigration of Israelis from the former Soviet Union because many are not Jewish.
“Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of Israelis who immigrated from the former Soviet Union in accordance with the Law of Return aren’t Jews according to halacha and they are here, to my great regret,” Aryeh Deri, who heads the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, said at a campaign event Tuesday in the coastal city of Ashdod.
Halacha refers to rabbinic Jewish law, which holds that in order to be recognized as Jewish a person must have a Jewish mother or have been converted to Judaism.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union arrived in Israel under its foundational Law of Return, which grants citizenship to individuals with at least one Jewish grandparent.
Deri was responding to rumors fueled by Yisrael Beitenu party head Avigdor Liberman that the Interior Ministry performs DNA tests on immigrants from the former Soviet Union to determine if they are Jewish. Deri later clarified that such tests are not used and he is not planning to introduce them.
Liberman, himself an immigrant from Moldova in the former Soviet Union, said in response that if he were interior minister he would “stop the racism and discrimination pushed by the ultra-Orthodox establishment against immigrants from the former Soviet Union.”
Another member of Liberman’s party, which holds the Immigration Absorption Ministry and largely represents immigrants from the FSU, accused Deri of “venomous racism against people who realize the Zionist vision and settle the Land of Israel.”
Deri also said that in the next government he wants to be the minister of immigrant absorption to make immigration more difficult for those who are not Jewish according to halacha.
“Today, you can’t go around the corridors of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry unless you speak Russian,” he said. “The ministry will no longer exist to serve immigrants from the Soviet Union. It will be for those who make aliyah from France, and will be a home for Jews from Ethiopia.”