Editorial: Foreign children, flawed comparisons

Reasons against deportation being confused.

August 27, 2010 02:09
3 minute read.
Foreign Workers' kids at a protest in Tel Aviv

foreign workers' kids 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s call for the cabinet to reconsider the expulsion of about 400 children of foreign workers has once again aroused debate which touches on the very foundations of the Jewish state.

However, it is not questions of ultimate meaning that seem to bother the defense minister. He is not challenging the morality of the expulsion from a Jewish perspective, nor is he attempting to grapple with claims that Jewish continuity is at risk if foreign workers are permitted to stay in Israel and intermarry. Barak appears to be more concerned with impressions.

“The sight of police raiding the homes of the workers and forcibly removing children, of prison cells full of families, and of Interior Ministry inspectors forcing Hebrew-speaking children onto planes would cause irrevocable damage to all of us, both domestically and abroad,” he said Wednesday Impressions are important. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is acutely aware of this. He has recently come under fire for ordering the deportation of 700 Roma, or Gypsies, to their original homes in Romania and Bulgaria.

Critics concerned with impressions have likened Sarkozy’s deportations to the “roundups” – Les rafles – perpetrated by Vichy France during World War II as part of the systematic destruction of French Jewry. The Nazis killed 200,000 Roma during the war, according to US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates.

In Israel as well, the Holocaust has featured prominently in the debate over deportation. Noah Flug and Alex Orly, who head an umbrella organization of Holocaust survivors, said that the cabinet decision to deport the 400 children and their families was liable to conjure up memories of “selection,” the process used at Nazi camps to decide who would live and who would die.

“We who experienced the Holocaust, were witnesses to the death camp selection and the separation between children and their parents... cannot bear to see pictures of miserable children who are not responsible for their situation and remain indifferent,” wrote Flug and Orly in a recent letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

YET THE “impression” that Israel’s and France’s deportations are in any way comparable to the Holocaust is utterly baseless. France’s Roma and Israel’s foreign workers are not being sent to concentration camps, heaven forbid, or even to a war zone or to abject poverty. They are simply being required to return to their relatively stable, peaceful countries of origin.

This explains why both in France and Israel the expulsions are so popular. A poll conducted for the daily Le Figaro on August 6 found that 79 percent of French favored the crackdown. A Ynet-Gesher survey found that 67% responded positively to the government decision to deport 400 of 1,200 children of foreign workers.

The French should feel shame for collaborating with the Nazis in carrying out the destruction of French Jewry along with thousands of gypsies. But comparing the present controversies over immigration policies to the Holocaust not only muddles the debate, it also cheapens the memory of the Shoah.

DEPORTING THE 400 children is wrong, but not because of the negative “impression” it would give – as if Israel were xenophobic or racist. It is wrong because these children have fully integrated themselves into Israeli society. If allowed to stay, these children will serve in the IDF, join the workforce and become productive, patriotic Israelis. In a sense they will have undergone an Israeli “conversion.” Maybe, they will even choose to undergo a conversion to Judaism as well, to feel fully a part of the Jewish state.

In parallel, clear immigration directives need to be adopted to ensure that Jewish continuity is protected – to ensure that, henceforth, Israeli policy is clear and is efficiently and fairly implemented at both points of entry and points of exit.

President Shimon Peres put it nicely when he called Thursday to let the children stay.

“[They] were born in Israel, speak Hebrew, and feel Israeli. Deporting them is out of the question,” he said.

Ultimately, it is as simple as that.

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