Responding to comments made by Health Minister Nissim Dahan, in which the minister from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said that non-observant Jews should not immigrate to Israel, Prime Minister Sharon said Sunday that the process to convert to Judaism should be shortened.
“It should be made possible for anyone who wants to become a Jew to do so,” the prime minister said at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
During the meeting, Dahan’s comments were strongly criticized by Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky of Yisrael b’Aliyah and Tourism Minister Yitzhak Levy of the National Religious Party.
Israeli radio had reported earlier Sunday that Dahan said Diaspora Jews should not immigrate to Israel if they think that they would not be able to adopt an Orthodox lifestyle in the country.
Dahan’s comments, made before an international convention of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, caused an outcry from the convention members, who were discussing the Jewish nature of Israel.
Dahan explained that he feared the erosion of the Jewish identity of Israel, and that the presence of Jews in the Diaspora was a result of God’s benevolence. “We prefer a Jew overseas to a gentile in Israel,” Dahan said.
Rabbis and Jewish community leaders protested against Dahan’s statement. Levy said that Jews should be encouraged to immigrate to Israel without any connection to the political or religious situation in the country.
“Dahan’s statements are a complete distortion of Judaism,” said Knesset member Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party. “The mitzvah of immigrating to Israel is unconditional, and [Dahan’s statements] are a heresy against Zionism. I doubt whether a Cabinet minister who says such things and encourages people not to immigrate to Israel can be a member of the government.”
Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor said Sunday that he hoped Dahan would soon retract his statement. “Such statements have not been heard since the beginning of Zionism. His statement is a serious anti-Zionist utterance,” Meridor said. “The minister chose to encourage Jews not to immigrate to Israel — against the policy of the Israeli government.”
Following up on Dahan’s comments, Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the Jews of the Diaspora who are considering immigration to Israel must be told that there is a danger that Israel will become a secular country with a secular government.
“If Israel is losing its Jewish character, and becoming a secular state, should we bring here the Jews of the Diaspora, who keep the Torah in their communities, in order for them to be assimilated in a place where churches are built?”
“It is better to stay Jewish anywhere else, and not to come to Israel to assimilate,” Yishai said.
“When the state was established, Ben-Gurion told our parents and grandparents that a Jewish state will be established, and they came to Israel,” Yishai said. “Today, if you ask our parents, if they had known that [Shinui head Yosef “Tommy”] Lapid will destroy the Jewish state, and form a secular government with [Labor Party head Amram] Mitzna, would they immigrate to Israel? The answer is simple — they would prefer to stay in Morocco, Tunis and Iran and to remain Jews.”
Yishai warned of the implications of a secular government: “A secular state will bring, according to Sallai Meridor, hundreds of thousands of goyim, will build hundreds of churches, will open more stores that sell pork and in every city we will see Christmas trees. This is what Yosef Lapid and Amram Mitzna want.”
Yishai also said that the Law of Return must be changed in order to ban gentiles from immigrating.