The arrests of two alleged killers who were allowed to immigrate to Israel despite previous brushes with the law have strengthened calls for a change in the Law of Return.
Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, who was arrested a month ago by the Shin Bet (Security Service), is suspected of carrying out a long list of terror attacks on Palestinians, left-wing and gay-rights activists, messianic Jews and police, including two murders of Palestinians in 1997. The murders were carried out while Teitel was still an American tourist living on the Kfar Tapuach settlement.
He was arrested in 2000 and questioned over his involvement in the murders, but was released due to lack of evidence. Despite the suspicions against him, Teitel had no difficulties receiving Israeli citizenship a few months after his arrest.
Damian Karlik was arrested two weeks ago as a suspect in the brutal murder of six members of the Oshrenko family, including a five-month-old baby, last month in Rishon Lezion. Karlik immigrated to Israel in 2003, receiving automatic citizenship despite not being Jewish. Neither is his wife Tatiana, who was arrested as an accomplice in the murder, but the couple was eligible according to the Law of Return since Tatiana’s paternal grandfather was Jewish. The fact that Karlik was wanted in Russia for armed robbery in 2002 was no obstacle.
The Interior Ministry, which grants citizenship, has claimed that its officials did not know of the suspicions over either Teitel or Karlik, but the former Interior Minister, Meir Sheetrit, said last week that “no one at the ministry makes any effort to check the backgrounds of the candidates for citizenship.
“All they care about is making sure they are Jewish or of Jewish origin. During my two years as minister, I wasn’t once presented with a case of a candidate who should be denied citizenship due to a criminal record.”
While the Law of Return grants Israeli citizenship to any Jew and to any child or grandchild of Jews, it also gives the interior minister the right to deny citizenship to any candidate deemed to be a “threat to public safety”.
On these grounds, the American-Jewish gangster Meir Lansky was denied citizenship in the early 1970s and deported back to the United States.
Mr Sheetrit says that the ministry currently has no means of investigating a candidate’s record and has proposed to change the Law of Return, requiring a five-year residency period during which candidates will have to prove their records. As minister he set up a committee to review the citizenship legislation, however the proposal was shelved following the change of government earlier this year.
The arrests of Teitel and Karlik have renewed the debate on the future of the Law of Return, but Russian-born ministers of the Yisrael Beiteinu have spoken out against “branding” all Russian immigrants in the wake of the Oshrenko family murder.
Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver warned against “knee-jerk changes” to the Law of Return as a result of Karlik’s arrest, but admitted that it was time to review the law.