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Birthright, Israeli Government Demand DNA Tests to Prove Jewishness

The dreams of Nazi racialists appear alive and well in Likudist Israel.

Shimon Yakirson

Masha and Dr. Shimon Yakirson

Several days ago, Maariv reported (Hebrew) that the Israel-advocacy youth program, Birthright, had required a young Russian woman who intended to join a Birthright trip to Israel to undergo a DNA test to prove she was Jewish.  When Masha Yakirson, a resident of St. Petersburg, revealed her birth status, the group would not allow her to join without such an test.  She, naturally, felt insulted.  Her father replied on her behalf:

This is a racist policy.  It’s impossible to demand such a thing.  My daughter was raised in a Jewish home and educated as a Jew her entire life.

Responsibility for accrediting those seeking to participate in Birthright trips or those making aliyah falls to an NGO named Netiv, which has created the policy demanding genetic testing.  This conveniently allows both the government and Birthright to wash its hands of the matter (though the Netiv representative does have the official government title of “consul”).  Aliya is an official government authorization.  So compelling such tests becomes an official government demand by default.  Meaning, the State of Israel is a willing collaborator in racial profiling of the sort one might’ve expected from certain other countries in a prior century.

Taglit tried to undo some of the damage by explaining that Yakirson had at first been rejected outright by Netiv.  But a sympathetic Birthright official suggested that she take the DNA test as a way to prove her Jewish bona fides to Netiv.  That certainly makes it all right.

The PMO offered this exculpatory response:

“We’re not talking about a test to determine Jewishness.  We’re talking about a test to determine a family bond that entitles [the child to] aliyah.”

Well, why didn’t you say so?  That makes all the difference!

In the process of investigating this issue, the Prime Minister’s office confirmed that the Interior Ministry too demands DNA tests for Jews who are born out-of-wedlock.  Any child coming to Israel over the age of 3 who has “questionable parentage” must undergo the test.

Applicants for citizenship must prove they have at least one Jewish parent.  In cases of “mamzerim,” the government errs on the side of caution in requiring the DNA test.  So that it doesn’t allow any goyische blood to enter the nation’s blood stream.  Col. Jack Mandrake, the character in Dr. Strangelove who rants about the enemy defiling his “precious bodily fluids,” would feel right at home with this logic.

In a related matter, the Interior Ministry also demanded that a Palestinian woman who was a citizen of Israel, but living in Gaza, take a DNA test in order to prove that she was the sister of woman she sought to visit in Israel.  The woman in Gaza had her Israeli citizenship papers, but the Sherlock Holmeses officiating in the Ministry determined this wasn’t good enough.  After word got out in the media, the government thought better of this lame-brained scheme and relented.

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{ 25 comments… add one }

  • Oui August 4, 2013, 2:18 AM

    The Fallacy of Biological Judaism – March 2003

    (The Forward) – Given the historical context of the Nazi “experiment,” it is all the more remarkable that Jews all over the world have been flocking to the new technology of DNA-based diagnosis, eager to lend their individual genomes — each a surviving data point from the terrible experiment in negative selection — to a revisiting of this issue of biological Judaism.

    … Jewish curiosity has provided sufficient genetic material to give a perfectly clear negative answer: There is no support in the genomes of today’s Jews for the calumnious and calamitous model of biological Judaism.

  • Bob Mann August 4, 2013, 7:30 AM

    Have you ever done genetic testing? I must say it is quite fascinating. There does seem to be a set of common genes among Ashkenazi. In fact, one website says that they may all be descended from the same five or six families. It is one of the most insular groups genetics-wise. I realize this is only tangentially related to your main point, but one wonders about the big questions – namely, are Jews a religion or a culture or a people or all or some of the above? My own personal opinion, if one is a practicing Jew but who does not have Jewish parentage (a convert, say), wouldn’t that person add more to Jewish life in Israel than someone whose parents are Jewish but who does not have any connection to the faith? At this point in time, is the point to rescue Jews who may be persecuted just for having Jewish blood, regardless of belief (as in during the 1940s, for instance) or is it to build and foster a Jewish identity among Israelis? This policy seems more directed at the former than the latter. Does that make sense?

  • Marc August 4, 2013, 10:42 AM

    Ummmm… It is not Mandrake who talks about the purity of bodily fluids, it is col. Ripper.

    And the genetic test is utterly vital to test the girl’s true belonging to the master race!

    • dickerson3870 August 4, 2013, 12:31 PM

      RE: “It is not Mandrake who talks about the purity of bodily fluids, it is col. Ripper.” ~ Marc

      MY REPLY: In essence, Marc is correct! ! !

      FROM IMDb, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964):
      • General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.
      • Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: [very nervous] Lord, Jack.
      • General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
      • Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I… no, no. I don’t, Jack.
      • General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. 1946, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.
      • Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen… tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first… become… well, develop this theory?
      • General Jack D. Ripper: [somewhat embarassed] Well, I, uh… I… I… first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
      • Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
      • General Jack D. Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue… a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I… I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.
      • Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
      • General Jack D. Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh… women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh… I do not avoid women, Mandrake.
      • Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No.
      • General Jack D. Ripper: But I… I do deny them my essence.
      SOURCE – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057012/quotes

  • dickerson3870 August 4, 2013, 12:12 PM

    RE: “Birthright, Israeli Government Demand DNA Tests to Prove Jewishness”

    MY COMMENT: So now they are saying that Zionism does equal racism?!?! I’m so confused. I just wish they would make up their minds.
    United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_3379

    • dickerson3870 August 4, 2013, 12:40 PM

      P.S. HYPERLINK CORRECTED: In essence, Marc is correct! ! !

  • Yashove August 4, 2013, 2:30 PM

    Other than Richards comment there is ssue of mamzer, bastard.
    A mamzer is the legal status of a child who is born to a married woman,but whoose father is really a man other then her husband. Thus a product of a extra marital affair.

    A child born out of wedlock is never considered a bastard (mamzer) and there is nothing illegitimate about the child per Jewish Law.

    Israel’s Law of Return is not based on Jewish religious law.
    The secular leadership of Israel decided that anyone who had at least one Jewish grandparent could immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.this meant that people who are not Jews were permitted to immigrate.

    In the US it is easy to join the Birthright program. Just get a referral from your synagogue or other Jewish organization.

    • Richard Silverstein August 4, 2013, 6:43 PM

      There is a difference between halachic definitions of mamzer & commonly used definitions. Mamzer in common parlance means a bastard and has a far broader connotation that the halachic definition.

      Your articulation of the Law of Return is also incomplete. This Law is of course quite related to halacha in the sense that it, like Judaism, seeks to determine who is a Jew. The difference is that halacha determines this under a religious-theological basis. While Israel determines it on a national basis. That’s why the definitions are different. But they are certainly related at their root.

      Israel will NOT allow someone who is not a Jew to immigrate to Israel. But its definition of what a Jew is is different from halacha so under Jewish religious law some who the State considers Jewish may not considered so by the Rabbinate. That is why the Interior Ministry has twisted itself into knots to try to ensure that olim are as close to Jewish as possible under halachic (not just national) law.

      • djf August 5, 2013, 8:13 AM

        Israel will NOT allow someone who is not a Jew to immigrate to Israel. But its definition of what a Jew is is different from halacha so under Jewish religious law some who the State considers Jewish may not considered so by the Rabbinate.

        Is this really true? That would be fascinating, though not in a good way. How does this work? Isn’t the Rabbinate considered an arm of the State? If someone who is Jewish according to the State, but not according to the Rabbinate, how does the law apply, for instance, to marriage & divorce?

        • Richard Silverstein August 5, 2013, 2:20 PM

          @djf: This is why rabbis in Israel are so intrusive in the procedures they use to validate marriages & divorces. They know there are many Israelis who consider themselves Jews but who aren’t under halacha. It causes them (the rabbis) no end of grief & explains these DNA tests.

      • Shimona from the Palace August 6, 2013, 1:51 AM

        @Richard Silverstein: “Israel will NOT allow someone who is not a Jew to immigrate to Israel.”

        Inaccurate. Israel DOES allow non-Jews to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, if they have a family connection (as defined by that law) to a Jew. The Law of Return does state that a Jew is one born to a Jewish mother or one who has converted to Judaism but does not require (for the purposes of the Law of Return) that the conversion be “according to Halacha”. Thus, it would indeed be true to say that the definition of “a Jew” for the purposes of the Law of Return is not necessarily the same as the halachic definition of a Jew. BUT, since the Law of Return also permits the immigration of non-Jews with family relationships to Jews, even if the immigrants themselves are not Jews, and as non-Jews are also permitted to immigrate to Israel under ordinary imimigration laws (ie. NOT under the Law of Return), it is not true to say that Israel will not allow someone who is not a Jew to immigrate to Israel.

        • Richard Silverstein August 6, 2013, 2:10 PM

          @ Shimona from the Palace: I don’t claim to be an expert on the intricacies of Israeli immigration policy and the Law of Return, but the Maariv article clearly indicated that only an oleh with one Jewish parent was eligible under the Law of Return. Israel may have a separate set of procedures for non-Jews related to Jewish olim, but I’d bet the non-Jews wouldn’t receive citizenship under the Law of Return, though they might receive it under a different provision. And such a provision is liable to be much more laborious and take much longer to result in citizenship.

          So I should’ve written “Israel will not allow someone who is not a Jew to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.” I don’t think this changes anything basic in the post or the shame of what Israel demands of these people to prove their Jewishness or eligibility for citizenship under the Law of Return.

          • Shimona from the Palace August 7, 2013, 1:53 AM

            @Richard Silverstein – ” I don’t think this changes anything basic in the post or the shame of what Israel demands of these people to prove their Jewishness or eligibility for citizenship under the Law of Return.”
            This may be true if you object to the very idea of Israel’s existence AS A JEWISH STATE. However, since Israel’s whole raison d’etre is to be a Jewish State (and I won’t go into the whole topic here of what, exactly, we mean by “a Jewish state”, there is no shame in asking people who are claiming rights under the Law of Return to prove they are eligible for those rights. Don’t forget, all countries have certain immigration requirements. You can’t just pack your bags, fly to Australia, Spain, Finland, Hungary or whatever and demand instant citizenship. Immigrants to Israel NOT under the Law of Return are not really in any worse position than immigrants to any other country.
            “the Maariv article clearly indicated that only an oleh with one Jewish parent was eligible under the Law of Return.”
            I looked at the article again and it doesn’t say any such thing. In any case, why rely on a newspaper report when all you have to do is look up the law for yourself?
            For your convenience and that of your readers (those that read Hebrew, at least), I enclose the link:
            http://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/heb/chok_hashvut.htm
            As you can see,the 1970 Amendment to the Law clearly states that the Law applies to the child or grandchild of a Jew and to the spouse of the child or grandchild of a Jew. Thus, for example, the non-Jewish spouse of the non-Jewish grandchild of a Jew would also be eligible for Aliyah under the Law of Return.
            “I’d bet the non-Jews wouldn’t receive citizenship under the Law of Return, though they might receive it under a different provision.”
            If, by that, you mean the non-Jews who would still be allowed to immigrate under the Law of Return, you would be wrong. The Amendment to which I referred states clearly that it applies to rights stemming from the 1950 Law of Return, rights stemming from the 1952 Law of Citizenship and all rights bestowed on an immigrant “according to any other law”.

          • Richard Silverstein August 7, 2013, 10:07 PM

            Israel’s whole raison d’etre is to be a Jewish State

            How curious that you left out a co-equal element of the Israeli state from its inception: democracy. Now why would you have done that? Of course, because you realize the sort of Jewish state represented by the current extremist government cannot co-exist with democracy. It’s just as Meir Kahane recognized. Your version of a Jewish state awarding superior rights to non-Jews is not & cannot be a democracy. So you have to decide which you prefer: a Jewish state that is racist; or a democractic state that offers equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion. We know which you’ve chosen & with whom you’ve thrown in your lot.

            You can’t just pack your bags, fly to Australia, Spain, Finland, Hungary

            Further evidence of the sleight of hand of which you are guilty is, Israel is not like any of the countries you listed since none are nations based solely on a particular religion. These countries are based rather on nationality. A Catholic cannot travel to Spain & demand immediate citizenship purely by dint of being Catholic. Nor even can someone whose parents were generations ago Spanish but who left Spain long ago turn up at Spain’s door & demand immediate citizenship. Yet this is what Israel offers Jews who never had any direct personal or family connection to Israel.

            I do believe that such Jews should be entitled to become citizens of Israel. But not immediately and not by a right that supercedes that of non-Jewish refugees from Israel who were expelled in 1948 or after. They should apply to become citizens in precisely the way non-U.S. citizens apply to become U.S. citizens.

    • Robert Mullen August 5, 2013, 8:22 AM

      robert mullen

      Is the agenda of those advocating DNA testing to validate the Jewishness of a potential immigrant to Israel one of putting kaput to the Law of Return?

  • Yashove August 4, 2013, 2:41 PM

    Oui

    The link you provided is to a article tha deals with Jewish DNA research is ten years old.
    A lot has happened in the last ten years.

    That being said, genetics do not determine if you are a Jew.
    The laws of the Jewish nation determine who is a Jew and who immigrates into the Jewish nation.
    To look at “Judaism ” as a stand alone religion is not the traditional way that Jews viewed themselves.

    Traditional Judaism has far more theologically in common with Islam then it has with any version of Christianty.

    • Davey August 4, 2013, 10:14 PM

      The Interior Ministry should twist itself into oblivion.

      Genetic testing is implied by the “Birthright” program isn’t it? It is precisely this racist stuff that is in Judaism and the notion of “chosen-ness.” This is something potentially far more sinister than nationalism, the more innocent form of Zionism now largely superseded by the racist right wing of “revisionists.” Accordingly, Zionism is today racism and this indubitable fact needs to be trumpeted everywhere,especially in the US where racism has such a bad name.

      • Richard Silverstein August 5, 2013, 1:46 AM

        @Davey: Your comment disturbs me a great deal since it mines the common tropes of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Calling the idea of “chosenness” racist is offensive not just because it is a false portrayal of Jewish doctrine, but because it uses precisely the same rhetoric as classical anti-Semites. I do not accept Hitler’s, David Duke’s or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion’s depiction of the Jewish concept of chosenness. Nor should you.

        I simply do not accept that every strain of Zionism should be tarred with the brush of racism, especially using anti-Semitic tropes.

        The fact that there may be certain strains within Judaism (some elements of Orthodox Judaism & ultranationalist settlers) who do embrace a chosenness of the offensive sort that you describe, doesn’t mean that all Jews or all Zionists do. In fact, there are much larger and more mainstream elements in Judaism which embrace a spiritural & ethical interpretation of this concept. In fact, it’s not that dissimilar to the ways in which the Islamic term jihad can be interpreted as both a martial concept and a spiritual one.

        • Davey August 5, 2013, 12:40 PM

          Sure — there are all shades of everything. But the present active Zionist regime, and therefore many Israelis apparently, accuse the rest of the world of anti-semitism even while practicing racism. I feel a need to understand how this comes about and how Israel gets away with it.

          Identifying the reality of Jewish prejudice is not anti-semitic. Such tribal bigotry is alive and well and prospering. And, I suspect, this is nothing new. I know very well from experience exactly how a good many Jews feel about their identity and therefore about others and this is far more personally unsettling than the error of generalizing on the basis of such experience. Personally, I have great trouble in locating universal ideas in Jewish thought or Zionism. The Zionism of simple national “revival” is confounded by the likes of Sheldon Adelson and “Birthright” and, now, genetic testing! I am not happy with broad strokes either but I cannot apologize for pointing to something substantive and real in Jewish life even though doing so is distasteful or politically incorrect. I need to distance myself from this tribal bigotry as best I can. Your blog helps to do just that and that is why I keep coming back here, that is, to be heard, and chastened.

          • Richard Silverstein August 5, 2013, 2:17 PM

            @Davey: The idea of chosenness is not an example of Jewish prejudice any more than jihad is an example of Muslim intolerance & hatred. The truth is that there are elements in both religions (& all religions) which exhibit such extremist views. It does not mean that Judaism itself is racist.

            Nor are Jews who are uncomfortable about their identities anything that is new to Judaism or any other religion. Many Jews who are uncomfortable about their ethnic or religious origins simply aren’t aware of the full measure of their traditions. They think it is unidimensional or that it’s represented only by what little they know or have learned about it. This isn’t true of all such people of course. But it is true in many cases.

            Your inability to find universalism in Judaism or Zionism signifies the limitations of your own personal experience or knowledge. And you are not pointing to something “substantive.” In accusing the concept of chosenness of being racist you’re falling prey to anti-Semitic prejudices & amplifying them.

          • Davey August 6, 2013, 12:07 AM

            I think that the people who now wish to genetically test for “Jewishness” are running wild with their racial concepts, and perhaps with “chosen ness” as well, not me. The fact that it has come to this, while provocative and depressing, it is not surprising. Why are we not surprised? Perhaps it is because we are so aware, perhaps painfully so, of the underlying racist current in important segments of Jewish life.

          • yoyo August 6, 2013, 10:04 AM

            I don’t understand what you guys are complaining about.
            Taglit pays for everyone’s expenses, they have the legal right to determine who will attend and who will not. Taglit has the legal right to determine under what conditions someone could participate.
            You don’t meet the requirements ? Pay your own way and visit Israel, no one will prevent you from doing so.

  • Oui August 5, 2013, 3:16 AM

    In the context of this article, Davey’s remark can be construed as anti-semitic for using a broad paintbrush. However, demeaning the value of another human being is rightly called racism. Discussion of the purity of the Jewishness in a biological sense, like you yourself mentioned, are traits of Nazis and its claim of a pure Arian race. The dark side of humanity inherited from Medieval times. I do have a problem with Netanyahu’s demand the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Will this be an excuse to continue discriminatory acts within Israel’s social and political system? It was President Truman who crossed out “Jewish” when he approved of establishing the State of Israel.

    Underlying Torat Hamelech is a philosophy that demeans the value of the non-Jew as a human being. Yes, there are sources in the Torah that support this approach, but they are all referring to idol worshipers. This clearly does not apply to monotheists such as Christians and Muslims.

    In her article “Israel: Rise of the Right”, Phyllis Bennis describes the rise of the extreme, fascist right in Israeli politics. How else can one desribe the actions by settlers and the IDF on the West Bank?

  • Goolam August 6, 2013, 12:53 AM

    They should perform genetic tests on the Palestinians. Right of Return would become a non-issue overnight. Israelis would have their state. They’d just have to share it democratically with some distant relatives.

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