The Labor faction in the Knesset decided to oppose the government's planned deportation of around 1,000 children born here to foreign workers. This is the right attitude.
In most states, the rule is that anyone born within the territory of the state becomes a citizen (jus soli). This is why in most democratic countries, these children would have been exempt from deportation by virtue of their automatic citizenship. In Israel, the rule is different: Under the "blood-rule" (jus sanguinis), citizenship is inherited from parents or given automatically to Jewish immigrants.
I do not propose to change this rule, but the planned deportation of children born and educated here, raises another issue: Israel is duty bound not to expel children if this amounts to inhuman action. Sending children born and bred in Israel to a country whose ways - and sometimes even language - are strange and unfamiliar means deporting them to a cultural exile. This is a breach of the children's human rights not to be exiled, and it is this which prompted two former interior ministers - Avraham Poraz and Ophir Pines-Paz - to initiate a government decision granting these children the right to stay here with their parents.
WHY SHOULD the lot of the children be different than that of adult foreign workers? Because these children are not guilty of any illegal behavior. Unlike adults who have overstayed their visa periods, they are not guilty of any misdeed. They were born here. That's all. Because sending them to their parents' homeland is tantamount to punishing them, and this is totally unjustified.
And it is even more unjustified in view of the fact that Israel has not adopted an immigration policy which would clarify to foreign workers their "dos" and "don'ts." The Knesset and government have constantly refused to formulate such a policy, leaving the rights and duties of these workers to the whims of various ministers and to the courts' readiness to intervene in these ministerial decisions.
The recommendations of a committee of experts which I had the honor to chair were unceremoniously shelved without any reason. Now another paper, written under the auspices of Prof. Ruth Gavison by Prof. Shlomo Avinery, lawyer Liav Orgad and myself, is due for consideration. The three writers of the paper have issued a statement asking the government to let these children stay.
The principle embodied in our paper is simple: "tough outside; soft inside" - i.e. it's not easy to immigrate to Israel (except, of course, under the Law of Return) but once inside, Israel is bound to treat its immigrants and foreign workers with dignity and accord them equal rights. In the absence of any immigration policy, it would be doubly unjust to punish these children.
Furthermore, in these days, when we are isolated in international public opinion, the sight of crying children being dragged to the expelling airplanes is something we can certainly do without.
But this is not merely a question of our image abroad. The elementary moral rule is plain and simple: In a Jewish state, Jews don't expel children. This is our true Jewish heritage. This is the message of a people who have suffered from persecution for ages. And anyone who acts differently, acts in a non-Jewish way.
The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and Knesset member, as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law (www.amnonrubinstein.org)