Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison, one of Israel’s most respected legal intellectuals, is said to owe her failure to be appointed to Israel’s supreme court to two main things: her opposition to the judicial activism of the 1995-2006 Barak court and her strong affirmation of Zionist values in an increasingly post-Zionist age.
And so when someone like Gavison, in a newly published position paper entitled “The Necessity of Strategic Thinking: A Constitutive Vision for Israel and Its Implications,” suggests fundamental changes in Israel’s Law of Return, which guarantees Israeli citizenship to any Jew wishing to live in the Jewish state, you have to sit up and take note.
Until now, amending this law has been the agenda of post- and anti-Zionists, who claim—quite correctly—that it discriminates in favor of Jews. Now along comes Gavison and says in effect that it doesn’t discriminate enough, because it has been taken advantage of by too many people who—although they are Jews according to Jewish religious or Israeli secular law, such as Russians with a single Jewish grandparent or Ethiopians whose ancestors converted to Christianity—have “no interest in Jewish life.” Such immigrants, says Gavison, have often ended up being a cultural and/or economic burden on Israel, which has had great difficulty integrating them successfully.
One can’t deny that this difficulty has been real. And yet Gavison’s proposal could only result in a legal, political, and bureaucratic nightmare. Who, exactly, would decide what an “interest in Jewish life” is? Who would decide who does or doesn’t have it? Would screening committees be set up for tens of thousands of potential immigrants with the power to decide in each case whether such an “interest” exists?
Although the Law of Return has indeed become more and more problematic with time, sweeping changes in it are only likely to cause greater problems. One would think that a conservative jurist like Ruth Gavison would be the first to understand this.