Israel is home, the only home most know, to some 1,200 children of foreign workers. Just who are these children? They are mostly the children of workers brought to Israel to do the manual labor jobs Israeli will not take on. Many of these workers have decided to overstay their work permits. They are not here legally. These are the sons and daughters of Thai, Chinese, Philippine, Colombian, and African migrant workers.
Most of then speak Hebrew and may know no other language, culture, or land. They study in Israeli schools. They belong to Israeli youth movements.
The issue of migrant workers in hardly unique to Israel. These workers are brought to Israel to provide cheap labor. Often the conditions under which they labor, and in which they live, are deplorable. No plans were made for the possibility that these workers would give birth to children while here in Israel. Israel has failed to adopt a coherent immigration policy with regard to these minors until now.
Israel''s Interior Ministry claims there are some 300,000 illegal migrants and approximately 70,000 legal foreign workers in Israel.
This week the government set criteria by which some 800 of the children will be permitted to remain in Israel and another 400 will be deported.
Israel''s interior Minister, the Zealously Orthodox Eli Yishai said, "those who allow these children to stay in Israel, are allowing the parents to pull one over on the State of Israel and stay in the country." But this is the same ministry that throws every obstacle possible in the way of the legal Aliyah of African-American converts to Judaism. It is a racist and xenophobic Interior Ministry. It is the same Eli Yishai who was quoted as saying, "If hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come here now, they will bring with them a profusion of diseases: hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis, AIDS and drug addiction."
Israel has created the incentive to bring these people here. They are seeking a better life. Some of the refugees from Africa fear death if deported back to their countries of origin.
Like many others Yishai claims to be concerned about the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. But I am no less concerned. What''s more, I am concerned about the nature of that Jewish identity.
Of all peoples, we know what it is like to live in fear of deportation; to hide from the police who pursued us. We know what it means to be a refugee.
Our tradition claims that our people are the most compassionate of all on this earth. It is time to show this compassion right now.
Imagine the scenes on TV as hundreds of crying children are transported from their homes. Imagine the world''s reaction. Is this really necessary? Can''t we allow the remaining 400 to find a path to residency?
But it is not simply "What will the world say?" Basic Jewish values demand that we act with compassion. Abraham was commanded by God to leave his home and migrate to Israel. His home was always open to others. He knew what it was like to wonder. He and Sarah hosted those who were hungry and thirsty.
The Torah commands compassion toward the stranger for we were strangers ourselves in a land not our own.
Yet along come Israeli rabbis (fortunately not all) and in the name of Torah issue an edict forbidding Jews to rent apartments to these foreigners. They distort our tradition. They allow racism, or fear, to confuse their thinking and teach their followers the very opposite of what we all know to be true. They demand expulsion.
We are obligated to embrace these people that we have brought into our country. (I am not suggesting that Israel not take steps to keep its border from being porous). We must do what we can to see that they live in acceptable conditions and become integrated into society. If the children are so inclined, as they mature, then we must open the doors to conversion.
These children do not present a threat to the Zionist dream. It is those that would act cruelly, those that do to others what they found to be hateful when experienced by their own families, who violate this dream. Let the children stay.
A Jewish State is a place not only for Jews but for living with the compassion that Judaism demands. This would be a step toward the greater fulfillment of the Zionist dream.