Yishai: I’ll do all I can to preserve Jewish majority

Coalition, opposition both drafting comprehensive immigration bills; gov't estimates as many as 1,000 people enter from Egypt illegally every month.

By RON FRIEDMAN, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
November 1, 2010 05:17
3 minute read.
A family of African migrants outside the Knesset (file)

311_African migrants. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on Sunday that he will do everything possible to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority.

Speaking at a conference in the capital on the nation’s immigration policy, Yishai said that faced with the threat of hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of Africans who want to enter the country, Israel would advance legislation to protect its Jewish character.

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“Israel is the only democratic country in the region and the economy is growing, so hundreds of thousands will try to come here from the Third World. To remain a Jewish state, Israel must legislate laws and I will do everything possible to maintain the Jewish majority in the State of Israel,” he said.

“The legislation must clarify the rules and who has authority. It must prevent losing the Jewish majority in stages, so that even three decades from now we won’t lose the majority,” Yishai said. “There is a majority for such a bill in the Knesset and in the government, but passing it will take time.”

While the coalition is trying to draft a comprehensive policy through its forum of ministers on immigration, the opposition plans to advance a proposal of its own.

Opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni said at the conference that a single bill could balance Israel’s values as both a Jewish and a democratic state, and that Kadima was proposing such a bill under the leadership of former interior minister Meir Sheetrit, which she encouraged to coalition to adopt.

“Nationalism is not an obscene word. Israel is a Jewish state and that must be taken into account when forming an immigration policy,” Livni said.

“This obvious truth must be taken into account, particularly in light of the processes of delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state that are taking place both within and outside of Israel, in the face of a lack of a clear definition of what a Jewish state is and lack of a solution to the national conflict,” she said.

“At the same time, it is important to remember that Israel is a democratic country in the values it holds dear and not only as a result of its governance system. There should be no clash between Israel’s Jewish values and its democratic values, just as there is no contradiction between Judaism and humanism. In light of this, we must create legislation and an enforcement system that maintains both values,” she said.

“The problem has not been a dearth of laws but that laws were not enforced, allowing thousands of people to come in. So the problem has not been keeping them out, but how to deal with them now that they are here. We must provide solutions for these people for humanitarian reasons, while safeguarding the country’s interests,” Livni said. “In light of our bitter history, we must deal with refugees in a humanitarian way.”

Livni also said that building a fence along the Egyptian border to keep African migrants out is critical, no matter what it costs.

“Any financial cost is meaningless when compared to the need to build a barrier,” Livni said.

The two-day conference that began Sunday was organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty in cooperation with the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and titled “Immigration, Liberalism, and the Nation-State: Israel in a Global Perspective.”

It aims to bring together researchers and political consultants from abroad so that attendees can learn from the experience of other countries, in both immigration and citizenship law, and help decision-makers formulate a new policy.

The demand for a new, comprehensive immigration policy is due in large part to the influx of thousands of African migrants into Israel in recent years.

The government estimates that as many as 1,000 people enter from Egypt illegally every month. It acknowledges that 90 percent of the people who enter are Sudanese or Eritreans, but the government doesn’t recognize them as refugees and considers them economic migrants.


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