How Not To Keep Israel Jewish

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The Daily Beast:

The great airlift is on. Around the time I tap out the last word of this post, a plane will take off from Israel carrying South Sudanese refugees—the people whom Benjamin Netanyahu calls “illegal infiltrators”—back to their home country. The “infiltrators” must go, the prime minister explained in the cabinet, lest they “inundate” Israel and “largely put an end to its character as a Jewish, democratic state.”

The Hebrew word for “infiltrator” connotes people slipping across the border to perpetrate terror. Nonetheless, such rhetoric puts Netanyahu on the mild side of his party and coalition. Likud Knesset Member Miri Regvev, you may recall, proclaimed last month at a Tel Aviv rally-turned-riot that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body.” Her party colleague, Ofir Akunis, has submitted a bill imposing a five-year prison sentence on anyone employing “infiltrators.” (That’s the Akunis who last year dismissed a TV interviewer’s inference that he was conducting a McCarthy-like witch hunt against leftists  by saying that McCarthy “was right in every word.”) Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, has asserted that “many women in Tel Aviv have been raped” by Sudanese refugees “but are afraid to file complaints lest they be stigmatized as AIDS carriers.”

Actually, I’d like to get back to Netanyahu’s view of what makes a country Jewish. First, let’s note that the government’s hyper-publicized campaign to deport the South Sudanese is a deception inside a diversion inside a con game. Out of 60,000 asylum-seekers in Israel, 1,000 or less are from South Sudan, as Sigal Rozen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers explains. Most Africans who have crossed the Sinai into Israel seeking safety are from  Eritrea or other parts of Sudan, including Darfour—places where their lives would be in danger if they went home. The 1951 U.N. convention on refugees bars deporting them. Whether the South Sudanese will be safe in their newly independent homeland is far from certain—but removing Hebrew-speaking South Sudanese children from their Israeli classrooms and deporting them won’t dent the number of refugees.

If Netanyahu were really concerned about the number of Jews and non-Jews under Israeli rule, he’d pay attention to the brontosaurus in the living room: …

Read the rest here.

1 thought on “How Not To Keep Israel Jewish”

  1. Bibi and his coalition would define Israeli Jewishness to be the expunging of all else. I think it disasterous that the vanguard of settlers, those inclined to burn fields, take water resources, even fire weapons, are defining through their implicitly sanctioned acts both State policy and the nature of Torah.
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    Incitement to riot should not be tolerated; but it is, easily. Incitement by members of the Knesset and policy operatives. Expunging (erased from presence and memory) of token South Sudanese for political show is repugnant. Your view that the occupation is seeping back into mainstream politics seems confirmed. While I still have faith in the power of thought in Israel, I fear things will get much worse before they improve.

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