Immigration head denies calling for banning extremists

NEW YORK — The head of the Jewish Agency's aliyah department in the United States has denied reports that he urged a ban on the immigration of right-wing extremists to Israel.

A storm erupted in Israel last week after an article in the newspaper Yediot Achronot claimed that Gad Ben-Ari called for revising the Law of Return to render right-wing extremists ineligible for immigration.

Ben-Ari, now based in New York, said the remarks attributed to him were "express the exact opposite of what I said."

Ben-Ari, former media adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said he did favor a change in the Law of Return after the February 1994 massacre of Arabs in Hebron by U.S.-born Baruch Goldstein.

Ben-Ari said at that time that he thought that the law should be amended to bar the immigration of Jews active in organizations that are illegal in Israel, such as the extremist anti-Arab Kahane Chai.

But Ben-Ari said in an interview Friday of last week that it would be inappropriate to suggest such a change now, given the Israeli political climate in which "there is a vocal opposition to the government's policies."

"Any attempt to discuss any change in the Law of Return in the current atmosphere in Israel would automatically be interpreted as an attempt to use the law for political purposes," he said.

At the same time, Ben-Ari pointed to provisions in existing law that permit the Jewish Agency to bar immigrants deemed to "pose a danger to the state and to public safety."