Leader of the 'Shas' party Aryeh Deri leads a Shas faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament on June 26, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

BY MARCY OSTER

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s interior minister said that he regrets the country absorbed such a large number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union because they are not Jewish.

“Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of Israelis who immigrated from the former Soviet Union in accordance with the Law of Return aren’t Jews according to halacha and they are here, to my great regret,” Aryeh Deri said, referring to rabbinic Jewish law, at a campaign event Tuesday in the coastal city of Ashdod.

Deri, who heads the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, said that in the next government he wants to be the minister of immigrant absorption to make it more difficult for those who are not descended matrilineally from Judaism to make aliyah.

“Today, you can’t go around the corridors of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry unless you speak Russian,” he said.

“The ministry will no longer exist to serve immigrants from the Soviet Union. It will be for those who make aliyah from France, and will be a home for Jews from Ethiopia.”

Deri alluded to rumors fueled by Yisrael Beitenu party head Avigdor Liberman that the Interior Ministry performs DNA tests on immigrants from the former Soviet Union to determine if they are Jewish. Deri later clarified that such tests are not used and he is not planning to introduce them.

Liberman is an immigrant from Moldova in the former Soviet Union, and his party’s main supporters are also immigrants. His party has held the Immigration Absorption Ministry for years.

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