Israel's crude and cruel immigration policy

By endorsing the deportation of 400 children, Netanyahu is defending the indefensible

By Dan Kosky, October 7, 2010

Shamefully, the spectre of deportation currently hangs over 400 Israeli-born children of foreign workers. Israel's cabinet decided this summer that, although the children attend Israeli schools and speak Hebrew, because their parents' visas have expired, the children must go.

Misguided as it is, the decision to forcibly remove these children from the only home they have known was actually a governmental concession. Interior Minister Eli Yishai had originally proposed that 1,200 children be expelled. Prime Minister Netanyahu called the compromise a "considered and balanced" resolution. In reality, the ad hoc decision has merely plastered over the cracks in a dilapidated policy. The government's heartless treatment of 400 children has exposed the remarkable absence of any plan to accommodate the needs of foreign workers in general.

Around 27,000 foreigners came to work in Israel last year and the tide shows no sign of slowing. There is every reason to believe that plenty more ambitious Colombians, Ghanaians, Filipinos and others will attempt to forge productive lives in Israel. Yet there is no sign that the government is taking any measure to regulate their arrival, let alone co-ordinate a role for them in society.

Until now, the Jewish state has never countenanced the prospect that non-Jews might want to shape their future in Israel. The concept of immigration since the foundation of the state has understandably been confined to the role of both safe haven and homeland for the Jewish nation. It should be a point of pride for the country's leaders that, 60 years later, tens if not hundreds of thousands of economic migrants are banging on Israel's doors to build better lives for themselves.

Instead, Prime Minister Netanyahu laughably portrayed the 1,200 children originally in question as a threat to the Jewish character of a state of 7.5 million people. Eli Yishai echoed this scaremongering with his warning that the children posed an "existential threat" to Israel.

This irresponsible reaction betrays a worryingly primitive approach to immigration, one that appears to see it as a zero sum game where either all or none are granted entry. Every democratic country regulates immigration. There is no reason why Israel cannot do likewise both to maintain the Jewish character of the state and to grant a place to non-Jews most suited to Israeli life.

Israel has every right to give primacy to Jewish immigration. It is no more problematic for Israel to place would-be Jewish immigrants at the head of the queue than it is for, say, France to prioritise citizenship for those of French descent. At the same time, it is surely possible to create a long-term plan to absorb a number of non-Jews who are eager to work and positively contribute to Israeli society.

Maintaining the culture and heritage of the state while entertaining the aspirations of "outsiders" is a difficult balancing act but, given the migrant history of the Jewish people, of all nations Israel should strive to treat justly the countless workers who continue to flock here from across the globe.

A comprehensive, enlightened policy is long overdue. Israeli-born children must be spared the terrifying prospect of deportation. It is vital that the Jewish state's commitment to humanity and justice is upheld.

Dan Kosky is a writer and communications professional based in Tel Aviv

Last updated: 10:44am, October 7 2010