Liberal thinking and human rights discourse recognize the right of a minority to maintain its unique nature and cultural identity. Majority communities have not been allowed thus far to enjoy a similar right, however, since the assumption is that their culture is not threatened within the state, and that they anyway use democratic processes to preserve it.

This assumption becomes less self-evident in a world in which there is immigration of a scope that is unprecedented in history. The reference here is not merely to the huge number of migrants knocking on the doors of the developed world, but also to their character. They come from the Third World - Asia, Africa and the Middle East - to societies whose culture is different from theirs. Some of them create cultural enclaves and challenge local culture. The immigrants' objectives have also undergone change: Today most of these families are not migrating in search of temporary work; they seek permanent status.

And thus it happens that the majority feels the need to protect its own character. In the year 2035, for example, there is expected to be a Hispanic majority in Texas; the same thing is supposed to happen in 2040 in California. This population, most of which is Mexican, has a different way of life, language and education from the majority in those states, even in terms of its second generation. Even though these people do not challenge the right of existence of the American nation or its basic values, public discourse in the United States is full with demographic fears. Mexican immigration makes a huge economic contribution to the U.S., but those who oppose it, see it as a cultural danger to the nation's values.

Demographic fears in Europe are more significant. Within something like 20 years, a Muslim majority can be expected in Brussels - and this may happen just a few years later also in Amsterdam, Berlin and Oslo. Immigration laws recently enacted in Europe are an expression of the demographic hysteria there.

The federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany recently introduced a questionnaire that examines immigrants' points of view with regard to culture, sport, women's rights, homosexuality and anti-Semitism. Holland demands a certain level of fluency in its language, and asks immigrants to sign a "contract of integration" with the government. This week Britain launched a reform that includes demands for knowledge of English and for acceptance of British culture as a condition for immigration.

These are innovative laws. First, in some cases they refer to the requirements for entry, not the conditions for nationalization. Second, they make much more invasive cultural demands of the immigrants than the classic requirements of familiarity with the country's history and government regulations. Third, in many cases the law refers only, or mainly, to Muslims. The questionnaire in Baden-Wurttemberg is used only in the cases of immigrants from 57 Muslim countries, while Holland has exempted immigrants from countries that are OECD members from certain requirements.

In the past, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that special minority groups, such as ultra-Orthodox Jews or Bedouin, have the right to live in separate community settlements because of their need to maintain their culture, while restricting the establishment of populations that do not have a similar character. With regard to the village of Katzir, the High Court ruled that a community with a Jewish majority cannot determine that it will exclusively accept Jews as members since this is not a "group with a unique character" in this country. While this assumption is correct in terms of Israel, the Jewish majority constitutes a unique group in the Middle Eastern and the international spheres. In the world in which we live, the majority is likely to become a minority as a result of freedom of immigration. We are witnessing such processes now in Europe and the U.S.

Drawing a parallel between Israel and Europe is problematic. The demographic fears in Israel are for the most part ethnic. Israel seeks Jewish immigrants, even if their culture is different from the majority one, as in the case of ultra-Orthodox Jews; Israel does not want non-Jewish immigrants, even if they study the poet Bialik and salute the flag. Holland does not have an ethnic problem with non-Dutch persons, so long as they become Dutch from the cultural point of view and accept that country's values and language. In the U.S., too, the demographic panic over the Mexican immigration is cultural rather than ethnic. Unlike European or even Asian immigrants, the Mexicans refuse to become "Americanized."

Nevertheless, there is a common denominator between the demographic fears of Europe, the U.S. and Israel: the connection between maintaining the culture of the majority and self-determination. In Europe they are afraid of the establishment of a Muslim state in the heart of the continent, and there have been expressions supporting this on the part of Muslim clerics in Holland. In the U.S., they are worried that Mexican migration will create territorial enclaves whose values are foreign to American culture, and there have been Mexican public figures who have expressed the wish to turn the community into a linguistic-cultural-national minority that is recognized by law.

In Israel the fear is of a Muslim majority that will abolish the national character, and there has been support of this idea as in, for example, Yasser Arafat's famous speech about the role of the "Palestinian womb" in the national struggle.

Israel is the only democracy that still does not have an orderly immigration policy. Such a policy is an urgent necessity. Within the framework of such a policy it is not unacceptable to demand of an immigrant, even a Jewish immigrant, that he recognize and accept certain cultural and national norms. The community of the Jewish majority does not have to wait until it is turned into a minority for it to demand cultural and national protection. As for Palestinian immigration, that should be decided on at the negotiating table. Freedom of movement between the borders of Israel and Palestine could lead to the end of the Zionist project.

Yoav Orgad is a visiting researcher at Harvard University and a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His thesis deals with immigration restrictions.