Law of Return may be used to bar rightist extremists

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JERUSALEM — As the government is clamping down on radical right-wing Jewish groups, debate has resurfaced over amending the Law of Return to block extremists from entering Israel.

Argument has focused on whether it is necessary to amend the Law of Return, or whether the existing law has enough teeth to prevent extremists from entering Israel.

The debate intensified this week, when Interior Minister Ehud Barak barred a Kach activist from New York from entering Israel.

Israeli media reported that the individual, who was not identified, has a criminal record in New York and is known to the FBI.

At Sunday's Cabinet meeting, Environment Minister Yossi Sarid said the Law of Return, which grants Israeli citizenship to any Jew who wishes to immigrate, should be changed so that members of militantly anti-Arab groups as Kach and Kahane Chai, which have been declared illegal here, cannot gain entry to Israel under its terms.

"It is unacceptable that the Law of Return should apply to such persons," Sarid said. "There is no country in the world that would grant entry to members of a terrorist organization. It is inconceivable that we should."

But Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban of the dovish Meretz Party expressed opposition to any changes, saying that the Law of Return already gives the Interior Ministry authority to bar entry to any individual who poses a danger to public safety.

"In every instance, since the establishment of the state and until today, when the interior minister decided to prevent the entrance of an immigrant to Israel using this clause, he received the full backing of the High Court," Tsaban said.

Barak made use of this clause this week when he refused entry to the Kach activist.

According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, Barak exercised his authority in accordance with the Law of Return and the Law of Entry into Israel "to prevent extremists liable to breach the public peace and threaten the country's security" from entering Israel.

The clause was also reportedly employed in the 1970s, when Israeli officials denied citizenship to reputed Mafia gangster Meyer Lansky, who was facing prosecution in the United States and sought to immigrate to Israel.

Justice Minister David Libai, who is expected to present a proposal at next week's Cabinet meeting to form a law enforcement body that would combat right-wing extremists, did not have a chance to comment on the matter at Sunday's meeting, which was cut short in order for the ministers to attend a memorial service for the slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Law of Return says that anyone who claims Jewish heritage via matrilineal descent, or conversion, can claim citizenship.