Handling the immigration challenge

Transparent naturalization criteria is needed.

migrant workers children 311 (photo credit: Mya Guarnieri)
migrant workers children 311
(photo credit: Mya Guarnieri)
What is a Jewish state to do with the children of foreign workers? If you ask Shas’s Eli Yishai, all 1,200 of those who are known to have been born here to workers who came here legally should be deported immediately. They endanger Jewish continuity. A few years from now, these cute little boys and girls will be marrying our sons and daughters. And if we let them stay, more are sure to come, further weakening the fragile Jewish majority.
If you ask ministers Isaac Herzog (Labor) or Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), however, they will give you another answer. The Jewish state has a special obligation to the foreigner, to the sojourner in a land that is not his. The Jew must remember his history, first in Egypt and later in other exiles, of being a guest in another people’s land.
On Sunday, the compromisers won out. A Jewish state must address both sets of concerns. It has an obligation to foster a strong Jewish identity, the cabinet decided, and it must also show empathy to the plight of the stranger. Most of the children up for scrutiny – 839, to be precise – will be allowed to stay, along with their families. The rest will be deported after being given the right of appeal.
Tasked as it is with realizing the self-determination of the Jewish people and serving as a shelter against anti-Semitic persecution, Israel’s standing among the nations is special. In the age of globalization, the perception that mass immigration is a threat to national identity may not be a uniquely Israeli phenomenon, but it has a particularly complex impact here.
WAVES OF immigration, especially from countries conquered under 19th-century colonialism, have swept across Europe. With foreigners expected to become a majority in several of their cities, Europeans are undergoing a wrenching cultural soulsearch.
Doomsayers warn of the advent of Eurabia and the imminent demise of European culture.
In the US, meanwhile, a controversial immigration law granting law enforcement officers wider powers to question and arrest suspected illegal aliens was adopted by the state of Arizona. The law, nixed this week by a federal judge, has sparked lively debate.
At least one Republican legislator has recommended a change in the 14th Amendment granting US citizenship to anyone born in America, including children of illegal aliens. In states like Texas and California, a Hispanic majority is expected by 2025.
Arguably, though, Israel’s situation is more precarious.
The Jewish state hosts between 250,000 and 400,000 foreign workers. And half of them are illegal, compared to just one-third in the US and less than that in the EU. Foreigners make up 8.5 percent of the total workforce in Israel compared to just 6% on average in OECD countries. Israel has also integrated some 350,000 non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and tens of thousands of Falash Mura. Some 130,000 Palestinians have received Israeli citizenship under family reunion arrangements. Finally, an estimated 25,000 Africans from Sudan, Eritrea and other countries have infiltrated the country via Egypt. Together with Arab Israelis, approximately 30% of the population (inside the Green Line) is not Jewish.
Admittedly, 400 children and their families are not going to make or break the Jewish majority. Given the hardship inflicted on these children and their families, as well as the negative world media coverage of a “xenophobic Israel,” the deportation effort hardly seems worth it.
But the crux lies elsewhere. Remarkably, and dismally, Israel, which faces such formidable demographic challenges is, as a recent Metzilah Center report noted, “the only Western democracy that still lacks an immigration policy.”
The old paradigm of Israel as a repatriation state for Jews is anachronistic. Transparent, coherent criteria for the naturalization of non-Jews – criteria that serve Israel’s unique needs and give advance notice to migrant workers of the conditions of their stay – can help prevent future heart-rending situations in which little boys and girls and their families are forcibly deported. That is the truly fair, just – and Jewish – way of handling our immigration challenge.