The nrg website published the words of Amira Hass at the HaaretzQ conference under the heading “Aliyah to Israel is a crime,” with a very clear intention of arousing anger in the readers, and in doing so it managed to hit a nerve in one group – immigrants from the former Soviet Union. One of my friends even asked me as an employee of the newspaper not to stand by in the face of the “incitement,” as he put it, and to raise an outcry. “You have turned me and another third of the citizens of the country into criminals,” wrote my friend on Facebook.
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At first I thought that the request was strange. I don’t see an iota of incitement in the words of Hass, one of the writers who makes Haaretz what it is – a newspaper that causes difficulties for the government and challenges the mainstream. But when I read her column (“My message to Diaspora Jews: Don’t become accomplices to Israel’s crimes,” Haaretz, December 21), in which she explains her views in detail, I was uncomfortable and felt that after all, I do have a responsibility – to respond as a new immigrant or as a migrant (the terminology is unimportant to me) to her claim that “immigrants to Israel become conscious collaborators with the increasingly extreme apartheid policy.”
Apartheid or not, it is hard not to agree that the Law of Return is a discriminatory law. It is designed for one national group, while this country is home to a large minority of native-born citizens who are denied the right of return and even family reunification. Therefore, even if we place the occupation outside the parentheses, we have to admit that there’s a problem here. I see no solution to this problem on the level of policy. The only solution that would be completely consistent and ethical on the personal level is to leave Israel. That is the only way to avoid cooperating with the system – not only for those who came here, but also for those who were born here as Jews.
But a human being is not a manifesto and does not consist of pure principles. A human being aspires to happiness, he is dependent on circumstances, he is weak. Every human being – Jewish, Palestinian, American or Russian – has the basic right simply to live his life without being aware at every given moment of the evils taking place around him. It is not humane to demand of people to consist of pure ethics – and if it is not humane, it is not ethical either.
The immigrants who came from the countries of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s certainly were not aware of the discrimination inherent in the Law of Return. Some of them were fleeing from mortal danger – like those who came from Uzbekistan or Azerbaijan. Some were fleeing from severe economic distress and from the empty shelves in the stores, some simply hoped for a better future (a dream that did not necessarily come true), and in spite of their image, there were even some who came for Zionist reasons, to build and to be built.
Most of the immigrants who are coming now – mainly from Russia and Ukraine, as well as France – are not acting out of existential distress. We can reasonably assume that some are even aware in general terms of the political situation in Israel. Certainly more aware than were their predecessors immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain and prior to the age of the Internet. But these people are also entitled to happiness. They are entitled to a sense of security, entitled to live in a country where journalists and opposition members are not murdered, in a country where editors of media outlets are not replaced by a whim of the government. And even if it sometimes seems that Israel is hurtling in that direction, we’re not there yet.
These people are not criminals. Just as we must oppose the imposition of collective responsibility or collective punishment on Palestinians because of terrorism, we must not impose collective responsibility for the discrimination in the Law of Return or the crimes of the occupation on Israelis, even less so on those eligible under the Law of Return. In the final analysis we all want to live our lives, and the more opportunities life offers us, the greater our desire for a better life.
Nobody should be denied the chance of happiness because his friend is miserable. Nor should the right to happiness be denied to a group. And as far as the Law of Return is concerned – even if we can’t live in peace with it, it’s impossible to live without it, as long as we agree on the need for a national home for the Jewish people.