This call was also accompanied by legal demands for compensation of expropriated property from "internal refugees," and a demand to abolish the "Law of Return." We should consider accepting their last demand. Not in order to placate the Arabs, but rather, because it would be good for the Jews.
When the "Law of Return" was legislated it was credited with great importance both in terms of its symbolic and practical meaning, but circumstances since then have changed. There are no longer Jews in the Diaspora who are being persecuted because of their nationality; Israel has been transformed from a rickety ship into a thriving country, and the demographic balance between the Arabs and Jews in consistently shifting in favor of the Arabs. Ostensibly, their demographic boost should strengthen the Jewish argument for preserving the law, but as I will try to show, it is weakening it.
The meagerness and weakness of the country during its first years of existence served as a sort of filter, which created a situation whereby only Jews wanted to come here. Now, many people wish to join us, most of them non-Jewish. This has forced us to determine who is a Jew for the purpose of the "Law of Return", and after numerous deliberations it was decided that a Jew is not necessarily defined as such by Jewish law.
Since this is what was decided, we were forced to determine the level of "Jewish blood" that would entitle a person to immigrate to Israel under the law. The deliberations on these issues forced us to decide who would be the qualified rabbi to convert these persons, and got us caught up in an ongoing dispute between the various Jewish denominations.
Either way, the number of Jewish immigrants has dropped, and in 2005 only 16,000 new immigrants, only half of whom are Jews, came to Israel.
At least 300,000 people who belong to the non-Arab population, and an additional 160,000 foreign workers are not Jewish. Many of them, as well as many who are considered to be Jews according to Jewish law, have no affiliation whatsoever to Israeli culture, Jewish collective memory and society's hegemonic values. The national effort to convert those who wish to do so is dubious in principle and ineffective in practice; however, the vast majority of non-Jews are not interested in conversion anyway.
Only the fear of Arab demography, and no other motive, prompted us to apply the "Law of Return" to people who have no affiliation to Israel. In so doing we have even sparked the ire of those Arab-Israelis who are willing to accept that the country they live in resorts to clauses that allow it to impose a type of temporary discrimination.
Had I been an Israeli Arab, I too would have been outraged that the son of a Russian Orthodox priest or the divorced grandson of an Ethiopian Jew – both of whom are not persecuted in their homelands – would be favored in every sense.
In my opinion the State should first and foremost act for the benefit of Israeli society and this involves accepting immigrants who wish to and are able to successfully become integrated. Their Jewishness – be what it may – is only one of the variables assuring their integration, and it is not necessarily the most important one.
New immigration laws, similar to immigration laws in other countries, could permit the immigration and naturalization of Indian software engineers who pass the basic test of the Hebrew language, demonstrate basic knowledge of our laws, and pledge their allegiance to the State and its laws, while a Russian or a French national - who is a Jew on his grandmother's side but who has no will or ability to join the nation being consolidated here – will be rejected.
Such immigration laws would not undermine the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs, because almost all the immigrants would join the Jewish sector of the population and would gradually become assimilated. On the other hand, only a handful of Arabs would fit the profile necessary for immigrants; i.e. willingness to pledge their allegiance to the State, its symbols and laws, and agreeing to uphold all the obligations that stem from such a pledge, including serving in the military.