By Ayal Gabbai and Ro’i Yelnick
A new position paper by Ayal Gabbai, former director of the prime minister’s office, and Ro’i Yelnick, an Institute researcher, presents the existential problems which are created by the infiltration of foreigners into Israel. The paper raises significant questions which must be asked and offers practical solutions.
The housing crisis – Currently (2014) there are somewhere between 40,000-60,000 infiltrators in Israel. Most live in extreme conditions: four to six people in one apartment. Their conditions impact the Israeli population and create a housing crisis – in recent years tens of thousands of apartments have been occupied by the infiltrators.
Education and welfare – The main challenge facing the educational system is what and how to teach the foreign student and whether they are to be considered permanent students or transient. The problems compound because the main burdens (welfare, education, and health) fall on already weakened regions, cities, and government infrastructures. Many of the infiltrators live in south Tel Aviv, Eilat, and Arad, none of which are swimming in resources.
Beyond presenting the problem, Gabbai and Yelnick discuss the identity of the infiltrators – do they immigrate for work purposes or are they refugees fleeing for their lives? According to Gabbai and Yelnick, there are organizations which take advantage of the phenomenon in order to destroy Israel’s character as a Jewish state and try to turn the country into a state of all its residents.
Gabbai and Yelnick suggest a number of possible solutions:
- Take a definitive stance on how to treat women and children who are stopped at the border, in Israeli territory, and suffer from hunger and thirst. What should be done about an infiltrator who attempts to breach the border fence? What means can be used to stop him – rubber bullets, tear gas, other means?
- Create a feeling amongst potential infiltrators that Israel is not a place to which they should emigrate. This feeling can be created by sentencing infiltrators to long jail sentences and preventing infiltrators from working and earning money.
- Establish holding camps which will allow the country to achieve two goals: in gathering the infiltrators the country can fulfill its humanitarian obligation while preventing their earning a living in the country. Another way to make Israel less attractive to infiltrators is the threat of returning them to their home countries. There are those who would mock a plane returning 300 infiltrators to their homes, for there are tens of thousands of infiltrators, but the sight of such a plane would have an enormous mental impact, and it is important to understand and to make it clear that the point is not only to be rid of the infiltrators currently in the country but also to stop the flood of infiltrations.
The question of immigration is part and parcel of the basic societal dilemmas which we call, in the current context, the dilemma of “solidarity limits.” National solidarity is not only a practical and appropriate solution but is also an idea which is a suitable companion to basic liberal rights and freedoms such as the right for self-definition and the right of free association.
The currently most accepted and stable limits of solidarity are the borders of sovereign nations in general and the borders of nation-states specifically. Countries are characterized by territorial limits and by the sovereignty they apply to the territory they control. It is this sovereignty which is decisive in immigration issues. International agreements and the principles of basic morality require countries to help refugees — especially those running for their lives — but in principle leave the formalities of immigration to the various sovereign nations. Countries are not required to grant refugees citizenship or even integrate them into society; they are only required to prevent the refugee’s extradition to places which represent a danger to life. All countries apply selection criteria for immigration and in many countries these tests center around the country’s national identity and the identity of those seeking to immigrate.
Both theoretically and practically, Woodrow Wilson’s liberal philosophy about the right to self-identification was exceptional. This right finds expression in the immigration policies of many countries. The idea of self-identification also was expressed in the foundation of the League of Nations, and while the League recognized the right of the Jewish people to define its own identity and to found a national home for the Jews, it is undoubtedly true that this recognition was the fruit of efforts by the Zionist movement.
At the center of the Zionist ideal is the founding of a national home for the Jews in the land of Israel. The Zionist ideal therefore places immigration of Jews to Israel as a central organizing principle. Anti-Zionist agents would refuse both the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel and the right of a Jewish state to exist. Both Zionists and anti-Zionists connect the rights of immigration and the existence of the State of Israel.
After the foundation of the State the Zionist ideal was expressed in the Law of Return and in citizenship laws. Challenging these laws means challenging the right of the State of Israel to exist. Laws like the Law of Return exist in many liberal-democratic countries, and attempts to challenge them in only the State of Israel are an aberration from what is accepted as ideal and as common practice.
The results of the War of Independence, the Israeli immigration laws, and the Jews’ longing to return to the land fulfilled the Zionist ideal in two ways. First, the clear and stable majority of Israeli citizens are Jews. Second, the percentage of worldwide Jews living in Israel is steadily growing.
A comparison of immigration statistics shows that nationality does have an influence in some countries. For example, similar vocabularies and a feeling of pan-Arabic nationalism explain immigration patterns within Arab countries. On the whole, though, the main variable in immigration patterns is an economic one. Modern theories emphasize the importance of degradation and social distance alongside economics as factors leading to emigration.
The triangle of nation-state, democratic regime, and immigration policy has accompanied Zionism since its earliest days. Jews have been persecuted for being Jews throughout the diaspora. Zionism strove to solve the Jewish problem in every single place by establishing a nation-state to which Jews from the whole disapora would immigrate. Since the Zionist enterprise began, the Zionist leadership and the Zionist majority championed the establishment of a democratic nation-state which would continue the work of ingathering. The overwhelming assumption of the Zionist leadership was that the state which would be established would be a Jewish and democratic state, a nation-state of all its citizens. The attempt to create a contradiction between these two elements, in the context of immigration or in any other context, is neither correct nor ethical. It denies Zionist philosophy, distorts the international experience of the modern era, and stands in contradiction to the political, practical, and judicial reality in the State of Israel. The claim of a universal right to immigration and a universal requirement to integrate immigrants is baseless — morally, legally, and practically — both in Israel and in every other country.