Deporting foreign children to preserve our Jewish identity?

October 14, 2009

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The Minister of the Interior and Chair of Shas, Eli Yishai, is insisting that the children of foreign workers be expelled from Israel. He and his supporters maintain that allowing these children to stay in Israel “is liable to damage the state’s Jewish identity, constitute a demographic threat and increase the danger of assimilation.”

The Jewish Identity of the State of Israel is without doubt a key issue for Jews throughout the world. The way in which we may agree to define this identity is more challenging. On the one hand, a Jewish Democratic state is impossible to maintain without a majority of Jews. The more non-Jews who become citizens of Israel, the more the Jewish majority shrinks. On the other hand, of what value is an ethnic Jewish majority, if its policies encourage separating children from the parents who do our dirty work?

The validity of Jewish sovereignty in Israel should be based on a democratic Jewish majority, but at the same time its validity should also rest on making decisions according to Jewish values of dignity and equal rights for all. Must these two equally crucial concerns be at odds?

These are not issues that engage only Jews. Europe is struggling desperately with its need for young labour that will not alter its indigenous culture. Even the United States, built on the immigrant non-ethnic ethos, is torn on the issue of foreign workers.

Though this would seem like a 21st century challenge, is there nothing from the ancient wisdom-banks of Jewish civilisation that might light our way?

What should be the Jewish response to the foreign worker phenomenon?

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