Civic Equality Does Not Mean Freedom of Immigration

There can be no self-determination for Jews in a democratic Jewish state unless a stable Jewish majority is secured. That is why, even after the advent of peace, Israel will have to adopt an immigration policy aimed at maintaining this majority.

Ruth Gavison
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Ruth Gavison

Professor Ze'ev Sternhell recently launched a scathing attack on both the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which restricts immigration to Israel by residents of the Palestinian territories even if they have Israeli spouses, and the justice minister's attempt to exempt the legislation from judicial review ("The ever-rising price," Haaretz, July 10). Sternhell stated that the Citizenship Law is "barbaric," discriminates against one category of citizens, and is therefore illegitimate. He believes the law stems from our failure to establish a political border between us and the Palestinians. In his opinion, failure to evacuate the territories and the continued intermingling of the populations will, "at the end of the day, create a multinational, multicultural, androgynous entity, turning Zionism into a passing episode." But if we simply leave the territories, he argued, there will be no need for a discriminatory and unacceptable law.

Like Sternhell, I, too, wish for the continued existence of a Jewish national state that respects human rights. I agree that a political boundary between us and the Palestinians is essential. But in my opinion, the policy of which the temporary order is part is necessary, due to both security considerations and the desire to preserve the country's Jewish majority. It does not constitute "special legislation for Israeli Arabs." It is not certain that it violates human rights that are constitutionally protected in Israel. It is not clear that it fails to meet the international community's standards for immigration policy. Nor is this policy linked to the continued occupation. The issues addressed by the Citizenship Law are directly related to the fact that Israel wishes to establish a real border between itself and the West Bank and significantly restrict migration by the latter's residents into the State of Israel.

For the time being, the law is based on the complex security reality of the past few years and on the widely accepted principle that residents of an entity that is in a state of war with Israel should not be granted legal status here. But even if the security situation changes, Israel's immigration policy might need to include elements similar to those of the current law, due to its desire to maintain a Jewish national state, to which Sternhell himself pays tribute.

There can be no self-determination for Jews in a democratic Jewish state unless a stable Jewish majority is secured. That is why, even after the advent of peace and a fixed border between Israel and all its neighbors, Israel will have to adopt an immigration policy aimed - within limits stemming from the need to respect human rights - at maintaining this majority. Such a policy cannot grant the country's citizens the right to impart legal status in Israel through marriage, since such a right would eliminate the state's discretion over the number and identity of those who receive such status.

That is the way things are, and not just in Israel. Anyone who has been following immigration policies in the developed world knows that the principles governing immigration are becoming tougher, even with regard to arrangements that were once accepted, such as the ability to obtain legal status for spouses of citizens or residents. This is so because many countries are discovering that massive immigration of this kind creates internal tensions, in the social, cultural and economic spheres, that make it difficult for the immigrant-absorbing countries to maintain their character and identity and ensure the protection of human rights according to their traditions.

Holland, for example, does not want to increase the population that extols deeds such as the murder of director Theo Van Gogh. The Scandinavian countries do not want a radical Muslim population that will curtail their media's freedom to publish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. These countries' immigration policies reflect their interest in ensuring that those who immigrate to them will not join groups that oppose the host country's character or values. While such policies do not directly discriminate among a country's citizens or residents, they do restrict the rights of foreigners to enter a country and settle in it.

Sternhell took a decisive position against the law's principles, but he did so without addressing arguments of this sort. That is not the way to hold an informed dialogue. This dialogue is far too important to be thwarted by a wholesale and precedent-setting exemption from judicial review. But it is vital that it include a direct and serious confrontation with these critical issues.

Ruth Gavison is founder and president of the Metzila Center for Zionist, Jewish, liberal and humanistic thought. The center is currently formulating proposed gui delines for an immigration policy for Israel.

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