Immigrants from former Soviet republics "have no connection to Judaism," said Dr. Avi Simchon the head of the finance minister's economic advisory committee.
Speaking to an industry and trade forum in Tel Aviv over the weekend, Simchon said the immigrants made aliyah "solely for financial reasons."
His comments were aired on Army Radio Sunday.
Finance Minister Steinitz told the cabinet's weekly meeting Sunday, The Russian aliyah has contributed greatly to Israel's economy and security, and I hope it (aliyah) will continue with full force in accordance with the Law of return."
Steinitz said he would discuss the controversial remarks with Simchon, who also told the forum "they (Russian immigrants) have some Jewish grandfather so, according to the Law of Return, they are entitled to Jewish citizenship.
"They thought that here they could find positive economic conditions. They did not come out of a desire to join the Jewish nation – maybe they came because here they were offered a (benefits package)," he said.
Simchon went as far as comparing immigrants from former Soviet republics to African migrants who enter Israel illegally, saying, "If we accept these 450,000 olim, why should we not allow the tens of thousands of infiltrators from Africa to undergo an accelerated conversion process?"
Simchon's remark came in response to author Aliza Lavie's claim that Israel is "abandoning immigrants who are not Jewish according to the halacha by making it difficult for them to convert (to Judaism)."
During the event one of the participants told Simchon that Germany had also opened its gates to Jews from the former Soviet Union. He responded by saying that "had the German government wooed them they would have moved there."
Simchon told Ynet Sunday morning that his comments were "distorted" and that he did not attack the immigrants from the former Soviet Union in any way.
"The debate centered on whether Israel should allow all residents to be converted immediately, and I spoke only of those who the State defines as non-Jews. I said that in their case there is a law and a process the state must stick to," he said.
During his meeting with Steinitz, Simchon apologized for his remarks, saying "it is difficult to dispute the (Russian immigrants') major contribution to the country."
Aviel Magnezi and Ronen Medzini contributed to the report
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