foreign workers' kids 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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
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
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
“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
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.
born in Israel, speak Hebrew, and feel Israeli. Deporting them is out of the
question,” he said.
Ultimately, it is as simple as that.