An incomparable problem

Israel’s Jewish nature makes the immigration issue different from Western countries, says legal expert Ruth Gavison.

Ruth Gavison 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ruth Gavison 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israel’s dangerous surroundings and need to retain a Jewish majority presents it with immigration problems wholly unique to the developed world, Hebrew University professor, Metzilah think tank president and former Supreme Court nominee Ruth Gavison said on Thursday.
“Israel is the only country in the developed world that shares land borders with so many poor, insecure and violent countries. Therefore, the strategic problems of Israel in terms of immigration are different than those of England, Europe and the US,” said Gavison, who will take part in the “Immigration and the Future of the Nation-State” conference – organized by the Israel Democracy Institute and Metzilah – next week, joined by Tel Aviv University Prof. Anita Shapira.
The conference will cover issues of nation-building, immigration law, citizenship tests and integration, and comparison of immigration policies from around the world.
While the conference will have a global viewpoint, immigration issues particular to Israel, including the country’s African migrant population, were discussed in the interview with the two professors.
Shapira said the issue is split between those in south Tel Aviv who feel abandoned by the government and forced to absorb the migrant population, and those in north Tel Aviv and elsewhere who blame the government for not showing enough compassion toward the migrants, adding that both sides are right.
Gavison said of the matter that the problem is caused by a “critical mass of people in proportion to the communities. What usually happens is that people without legal status, without the ability to legally work, enter the weaker parts of the society and the weaker parts are incapable of moving out because they don’t have resources to do so. So you’re seeing a very dense population of desperate people with no legal status living amongst people who are weak and cannot move away.”
When asked if Israel can remain a nation-state with a unique sense of “Israeliness” even as the non-Jewish population continues to grow, Shapira replied, “Of course there is non-Jewish ‘Israeliness’ – Arab Israelis are part of the cultural makeup of Israel despite that they aren’t Jews. This doesn’t mean that we want for the Jewish majority to be diluted, because this majority is the reason we founded this place, so that there would be one place where the Jews will feel a majority without fear.”
Though Israel is often seen as a unique country and has some unique problems in dealing with immigration, to Shapira, “we are part of an international phenomenon that is going on worldwide – we are a democracy that is trying to retain its culture while at the same time trying to not damage the basic principles of democracy and human rights.”
“At the beginning of the 1990s, people talked about how globalization and multiculturalism would get rid of the nation-state, today it’s obvious that these countries have all seen backlash against this,” she added.