Israeli law scholar, politician, and columnist Amnon Rubenstein reported in Israel Hayom that two Israeli academics attending conferences at Harvard University and the European University Institute in Florence lambasted an alleged Israeli plan to submit Russian immigrants to genetic tests in order to determine whether they are Jewish. The source of their accusation was an article by two Harvard professors, Ian V. McGonigle and Lauren W. Herman, titled, “Genetic citizenship: DNA testing and the Israeli Law of Return.”
Rubenstein claimed that the two academics were mistaken and that the Harvard professors’ article said nothing of the sort. But Rubenstein is apparently wrong.
The abstract of the Harvard professors’ article maintains that “The Israeli State recently announced that it may begin to use genetic tests to determine whether potential immigrants are Jewish or not. This development would demand a rethinking of Israeli law on the issue of the definition of Jewishness.”
The article begins with the story of Masha Yakerson, whose paternity seemed unclear. Her family was told by the Birthright Israel organization that to get a free trip to Israel she needed a DNA test, which, it claimed, was required by the Israeli consulate and would be needed if she decided to make aliyah to Israel.
After the story made headlines, Israel Hayom wrote that “the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that many Jews from the Former Soviet Union are asked to provide DNA confirmation of their Jewish heritage in order to immigrate as Jews and become citizens under Israel’s Law of Return” when there are doubts regarding their parentage.
The Harvard article also explored the history of Israel’s Law of Return, noting that its 1950 version said that “Every Jews has the right to come to this country as an immigrant,” without defining who is a Jew.
In 1970, the law was amended by the insistence of religious MKs to define that “Jew,” for the purposes of this law, meant someone with a Jewish mother or a convert, but at the same time expanded the right of return to include a Jew’s children and grandchildren as well as their spouses. This is what led to a huge influx of non-Jews from the former Soviet Union. Demographer Sergio Della Pergola suggested, the article added, that by a religious definition there are roughly fourteen million Jews worldwide, but over twenty-three million eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.
Rubenstein argued that “There is no genetic test that proves conclusively whether someone is Jewish or not.” But the Harvard article is not discussing that sort of test. It clearly cites the Prime Minister’s Office as saying: “We’re not talking about a test to determine Jewishness. We’re talking about a test to determine a family bond that entitles [the child to] aliyah.”
David Steger – Matzav.com Israel