African migrants stand on their balconies 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Left are triumphant and the Right are outraged.
The High Court of
Justice on Monday struck down a law designed to help immigration authorities
combat the illegal influx of migrants from Eritrea, Sudan and
In the 9-0 decision, the justices argued that the June 2012
amendment to the Law for Preventing Illegal Border Crossing, which allowed the
state to detain migrants for up to three years without a trial or an evaluation
of their immigration status, was an infringement of Basic Law: Human Dignity and
For the Left, the ruling was a vindication of their adherence to
the universality of human rights – regardless of race, religion or place of
For the Right, meanwhile, the decision was yet another indication
that the High Court was dominated by a weak-wrist liberal consensus.
the Left and the Right cited Judaism, Jewish values and the special lessons of
the Jewish people to support or oppose aggressive anti-migrant
Justice Edna Arbel, who wrote the main opinion for the court,
argued “we must not forget… our moral obligation toward every human being as
engraved on the foundation stone of Israel as a Jewish and democratic
Justice Miriam Naor pondered whether Israel would have the wisdom
to find a humane solution that is accordance “not just with international law
but with Judaism.”
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovitch argued that the
Jewish people, with its long history of suffering as refugees at the mercy of
other nations now have a moral obligation to show special sensitivity for the
plight of modern-day refugees.
Figures on the Right, meanwhile, deployed
Judaism as proof for the exact opposite conclusion.
Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, paraphrasing the Jewish law that
the poor of one’s city take precedence over the poor of more distant locations,
said that the State of Israel had a moral obligation first and foremost to
alleviate the plight of Israelis living in South Tel Aviv.
interior minister Eli Yishai (Shas) attacked the court’s ruling because it hurt
Israel’s ability to protect its Jewish character.
What are we to make of
a situation in which the same Jewish tradition and sensibilities are used to
support diametrically opposed conclusions regarding immigration policy in the
Jewish state? A possible solution would be to blame one of the sides – either
the Right or the Left – of misrepresenting Judaism to further a political
However, there is another possibility. Perhaps both the Left and
the Right are touching on genuine Jewish values.
On one hand we, as Jews,
have an obligation to love the stranger because we were strangers in a foreign
The Jewish sage Hillel’s golden rule “don’t do to others what you
would not want done to you” commands us not to commit the same injustices
perpetrated in the past against Jewish refugees before the state of Israel came
At the same time, ensuring Jewish continuity is central
to Judaism. Endogamy, kosher food restrictions and the emphasis on Torah study
are all designed to preserve the Jewish people. In the State of Israel this
particularistic aspect of Judaism has been translated into the importance that
most Israelis see in maintaining a strong Jewish majority.
According to a
study conducted by Sammy Smooha and the Israel Democracy Institute, in 2012 91.8
percent of Israel’s Jews supported the Zionist claim that Israel has the right
to exist as a state catering to the needs of Jews both in Israel and in the
The challenge presented by some 55,000 migrants who managed to
gain entrance to Israel is balancing these different Jewish values. On the one
hand we must not lose our compassion for migrants from Eritrea, Sudan and
elsewhere – many of whom refugees fleeing war zones where mandatory military
service is a form of slavery. At the same time, we have an obligation to protect
the citizens of South Tel Aviv and maintain Israel’s unique character as the
world’s only Jewish state.