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Following murders, Israelis ask if immigration laws too lax

Peace talk efforts notwithstanding, Israelis have been transfixed by a series of high-profile violent crimes committed by two immigrants. Critics question if the door is open too wide to Jews wanting to live in Israel.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 4, 2009

Ultra-Orthodox West Bank settler Jack Teitel appears in a court in Petah Tikva, Israel, Wednesday. Israel's Shin Bet security service says that Mr. Teitel is behind a 12-year campaign of high-profile hate crimes against Arabs, peace activists and a breakaway Jewish sect.

Reuven Castro/AP

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Jerusalem

Intense diplomatic efforts aimed at resurrecting peace talks notwithstanding, the issue currently transfixing Israelis is how to come to grips with a series of high-profile, deeply violent crimes committed by immigrants.

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In the past week, the arrests of two émigrés accused of multiple murders have pressed Israelis to rethink national priorities and relatively lax immigration laws.

In both cases, the alleged perpetrators had previous records in their countries of origin – Russia and the United States – one of them the subject of an open extradition request that Israel never fulfilled.

First came the news late last week of the arrest of Yaacov (Jack) Teitel, an immigrant from Florida who'd been investigated for murder in the past in the US. Mr. Teitel is accused of the murders of two Palestinians, two Israeli policemen, and a string of other hate crimes, including letter-bomb attacks that targeted left-wing intellectuals and Messianic Jews.

This week, police said Russian immigrant Damian Karlik had confessed to the massacre last month of six members of the same family, including two grandparents, two parents, and two children under the age of 3. But Karlik's lawyer now says he was forced into the confession after being tortured.

Is the door open too wide?

The murders have not only shocked the nation, but also prompted Israelis to ask whether the seemingly wide-open doors to Israeli citizenship – available to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent – has made it too easy for those with a deviant past to find refuge here.

"I don't want Israel to be a shelter for criminals," says Meir Sheetrit, a member of Knesset from Kadima, the leading opposition party in Israel's parliament. "In principle, today the Law of Return states that every Jew has the right to come to Israel, without any checks of any sort." Applicants are asked to sign an affidavit affirming to a clean record, but in reality, he says, no checks are made.

Mr. Sheetrit, a former minister of Justice as well as Interior minister, has for several years been working on a proposal for a citizenship law that would institute a five-year naturalization process. The need for such a law, he says, has only been underscored by the events of the past week.

"After 60 years of statehood, immigrants are not knocking on the doors every day," Sheetrit says. "With this citizenship law, anyone can come, but first they must live here for five years. In that time, we'll check that he's learned Hebrew and the laws of living in a democracy, and must swear his loyalty to the state of Israel like one does in every other country in the world," he says. "And, in that period, we'll be able to check whether the applicant has a criminal record."

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