Knesset panel OKs extending stays of young diaspora Jews

Participants in programs that bring young diaspora Jews to visit Israel should be allowed to extend their stay without proving they are Jewish enough to make aliyah, a Knesset committee recommended.

The Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee agreed unanimously on Feb. 25 that the Interior Ministry should allow participants in programs such as Masa and Taglit-Birthright to stay in Israel for an additional six months in order to look for work or investigate moving to the Jewish state.

Participants who wish to remain after the six months would have to prove they are eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return. The recommendation moves to Interior Minister Gideon Saar for his consideration.

Some 40 percent of participants in Israel programs request some kind of extension to their visit.

Knesset member Nachman Shai of the Labor Party had called the committee meeting following reports that participants in such programs were being asked to prove that they were Jewish under the Law of Return to extend their visas.

The criteria for participating in the Israel programs is not the same as the Law of Return, which requires that an émigré be the child, grandchild or spouse of a Jew, or someone converted to Judaism outside of Israel.

Rabbi Seth Farber, founder of Itim, an organization that helps Israelis navigate the Chief Rabbinate’s bureaucracy, said he was “pleased with the good will” of the representative of the ministry.

“The State of Israel already invested in these kids,” said Farber, who attended the committee meeting. “Until now we were throwing them out of the country.” — jta