'Over-zealous immigration' blamed for rise in anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism in Israel
by Inigo Gilmore
November 17, 2002
Russian immigrants who were invited to settle in Israel despite having onlydistant Jewish roots are being blamed for a startling outbreak of anti- Semitism in the country.
A growing number of incidents, including verbal and physical abuse, swastikas daubed on walls, and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, have led to calls for a rethink of Israel's "over-zealous" immigration policy.
Last night, Yuli Edelstein, an Israeli government minister responsible for settling immigrants, became the first senior government figure to call openly for the immigration system to be changed. He told The Telegraph that he was concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism and its apparent connection with the "over-zealous" policies of the Jewish Agency, which is responsible for bringing immigrants to Israel.
He said he had met heads of the agency to press for more stringent measures to filter out "undesirable" immigrants who have no intention of adopting Jewish customs.
A survey of recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union found that 70 per cent did not qualify as "Jewish" according to religious law.
The problem has arisen because Israel's "law of return" grants anyone with just one Jewish grandparent the right to settle in Israel and to bring their families. Critics say that aggressive recruitment campaigns by the Jewish Agency in former Soviet republics have tempted many people to move to Israel despite only remote Jewish connections.
Zalman Gilchensky, 37, a Jerusalem rabbi who set up a centre to monitor the anti-Semitic attacks in Israel, has recorded at least 500 incidents over the past year in which Russians have been involved in attacks, issuing anti-Semitic pamphlets, and in graffiti incidents for which they were arrested by police. He is heading a campaign to change the law, which, he says, allows emigration to Israel simply because one family member had a Jewish grandfather.
Last week, Mr Gilchensky organised the first public demonstration over the issue outside the Jerusalem offices of the Jewish Agency. He argues that the agency's rush to bring in new immigrants is endangering the state of Israel.
The agency has admitted that it is disturbed by the anti-Semitism, but says it will not shift over the right of return. Yehuda Weinrab, a spokesman, said: "To change the law of return would betray the trust with the Jewish community as a whole."
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