Affirmative Aliyah

A month-old article on OpenDemocracy.net has got me thinking again about differing levels of citizenship and equality in Israel. Laurence Louër highlights the growing minority of Arab Israelis, and how an increase in their numbers means an increase in their political power. This, he says, “is a challenge to the country’s very self-definition.”

Louër cites the legal organisation Adalah (with whom I have worked), who deal with Arab minority rights in Israel. Their campaigns centre around the fact that Arab citizens of Israel, be their Muslim, Christian or Druze, are not afforded equal rights as their Jewish fellow citizens. The charge, at its most ferocious, is one of apartheid. As I have found, this is a contentious word for a contentious issue – a more benign accusation might be something like ‘discrimination on the basis of ethnicity’. Either way, the complaint is that people are not all equal in the eyes of the law or the state.

Some might say that the inequalities are surely the result of social frictions, of the kind that we see in the UK. This might have some truth. Adalah’s complaint, however, is that the state also enshrines an imbalance in law. Inequalities are therefore magnified, ethnic conflict is exacerbated, and the idea of democracy is compromised.

To my mind (and Louër’s too), the most pertinent example of this inequality is the ‘Law of Return’, whereby anyone of Jewish origin may ‘make aliyah’ and take Israeli citizenship. No similar right is granted to those who might be relatives of Arab citizens, or indeed those who did, just a generation ago, actually live within the borders of what is now Israel. The justifications for this (when they are not biblical) cite the necessity of such a law to maintain the Jewish character of the state. I have written before on why I think states should not have an official religion or ethnicity. I also acknowledge that many see Arab Israeli issues as just once facet of the wider Palestinian population (indeed, Louër reminds us that most Arab Israelis define themselves as ‘Palestinian citizens of Israel’). For now, then, one observation:

Isn’t the ‘Law of Return‘ an example of Affirmative Action? The state is, after all, performing a kind of social engineering, seeking to influence its social demography. Certain ethnic groups are awarded preferential treatment, gaining admission by jumping the queue. The justification for this policy is that past injustices have been done to that group, and the preferential treatment redresses the balance. If the ‘Law of Return’ is indeed Affirmative Action, then don’t the arguments against Affirmative Action apply to the ‘Law of Return’ too? How do those who have made aliyah feel about jumping the queue?

31 Replies to “Affirmative Aliyah”

  1. Robert,

    Just to clarify: can you give any other examples of this kind of discrimination?

    The example you give here is discrimation between different types of people *who are not currently Israeli citizens*, which is a very very very different thing.

    In what way are non-Jewish Israeli citizens legally disadvantaged?

    But as to the topic: affirmative action is always wrong. Where it isn’t wrong, it isn’t affirmative action: it’s restitution or compensation to specific individuals. That’s as true for all-women shortlists or BME quotas as it is for the Law of Return.

  2. I linked to Adalah so I could skirt around that particular issue in this post, since, as I said “Their campaigns centre around the fact that Arab citizens of Israel, be their Muslim, Christian or Druze, are not afforded equal rights as their Jewish fellow citizens.”

    Other examples would be the university credits given to those who have done National Service (which is an almost exclusively Jewish preserve); the ceding of state land to the JNF which puts it to exclusively Jewish use; and the harsh treatment of the Bedouin minority (who were the subject of the film I worked on in 2005).

    But I reiterate that the Law of Return, the thing I’m scrutinising in this post, is the most stark example of the issue. This is in line with the Concluding Observations of the CERD Committe on Israel, which (I might add) also commends many anti-discrimantaory measures enacted through the courts.

    I disagree that discrimminating between people who are not Israeli citizens is “a very very very different thing”. Surely the process by which some people are included, and excluded from a state is integral, crucial to its make up, its essence. Secondly – to imply that it does not affect current citizens is surely erroneous, when for many people the wish to get Israeli citizenship is so they may be reunited with their families. Couple that with the arbitrary manner in which many Palestinians were granted or denied citizenship in the first place, I do think it is a compelling issue.

    Where it isn’t wrong, it isn’t affirmative action: it’s restitution or compensation to specific individuals. That’s as true for all-women shortlists or BME quotas as it is for the Law of Return.

    Hmm. A more pedantic person might pick at your logic there Cleanthes, but I see your point. Thing is, many would say that the two examples you’ve given ARE affirmative action. I’m not quite sure where I stand on the issue, just saying that the principles behind both look very similar indeed…

  3. Other examples would be the university credits given to those who have done National Service (which is an almost exclusively Jewish preserve)

    I am not sure that that is a good example, Robert, because Arab Israelis can choose not to do National Service, whereas it is compulsory for Jewish Israelis.

  4. Presumably you would also take issue with the UK immigration rules, which give Australians, South Africans and Canadians an edge over other immigrants provided they fulfil certain ethnic criteria? For example, I think if you are a South African with English grandparents you are entitled to British citizenship.

  5. Yup. Just like I take issue with the fact that the UK has a state religion, enshrined in law (in fact, I linked to my thoughts on that in the original post).

    In all cases, the laws give rise to preferential treatment for one group over another, based on ethnicity.

  6. “Thing is, many would say that the two examples you’ve given ARE affirmative action. “

    Come along Robert – that’s my entire point. Of course BME quotas and all women shortlists are affirmative action.

    ” when for many people the wish to get Israeli citizenship is so they may be reunited with their families.”

    This is not, of course, a problem for Jewish refugees in Israel. If a family was split up when some fled to Israel, the remainder would have long since been slaughtered and the Israelis would have no wish to return even if they hadn’t been. Somehow this position is just fine and does not merit a committee of the great and good at the UN.

    “Surely the process by which some people are included, and excluded from a state is integral, crucial to its make up, its essence.”

    Which is one excellent argument in favour of the law of return. Arabs have 99% of the Middle East to play with, Muslims about one third of the world. Jews have – Israel. That’s it.

    Other than that – it’s affirmative action and therefore, along with BME quotas and all women shortlists, wrong.

  7. Come along Robert – that’s my entire point.

    Thank goodness. The way I read your comment, I thought you were saying that BME quotas were not affirmative action. Which jarred, coming from you.

  8. Which is one excellent argument in favour of the law of return. Arabs have 99% of the Middle East to play with, Muslims about one third of the world. Jews have – Israel. That’s it.

    Jews do not “have” Israel. They are settled there.
    Ploughing people out of their houses because they could go somewhere else is unreasonable.

  9. DE,

    “Ploughing people out of their houses because they could go somewhere else is unreasonable. “

    Umm, and can you point to the bit were I even suggested it was?

    Further, can you point to any part of the law of return, whether affirmative action or not, that allows for this in any way shape or form?

    Perhaps you could expand – I’m not quite sure what your point is.

  10. Cleanthes, I am attacking your defence of the law of return. You seem to believe that the Middle East is a game of Risk.

    The Law of Return is exactly, as Robert says, social engineering.

    To balance the increased birth rate of Muslim families, Israel expands by inviting new nationals. Very little else to add. They also try to disenfranchise Palestinians in other ways, but that seems off topic.

    Not so much “affirmative action”, more “jobs for the boys”.

  11. DE,

    “Cleanthes, I am attacking your defence of the law of return. “

    And as I said above, I’m not really defending it. It appears to be a form of affirmative action and that – as I have said above – is almost always wrong.

    But even if I were defending it, your attack misses: you accuse the law of return as – read your OWN words above:
    “Ploughing people out of their houses “

    I want you to justify that statement. It smacks of the most appalling bigotry. It suggests that you think either that the Israeli government has a policy of evicting existing occupants in order to accommodate immigrants or that the immigrants do so themselves, perhaps with the state turning a blind eye.

    There may be many things wrong with the law of return, but you will need to do some serious work to convince that one of its flaws is that it overrides existing property rights.

    Further, I reiterate my questions to you:
    1) when did *I* suggest that throwing people out of their homes was an acceptable practice?
    2) when did *anyone* suggest that this was a direct effect of the law of return?

    You have very conspicuously failed to answer either.

  12. Which is one excellent argument in favour of the law of return. Arabs have 99% of the Middle East to play with, Muslims about one third of the world. Jews have – Israel. That’s it.

    Surely this is what DE was referring to?

    Its a useful position to highlight, since it links with a further reply to Katy, who sweetly said:

    Oh please. Like I read the original post before I commented.

    To which my addition would be:

    Although it might not be clear, my post is also just one thought in a wider pondering of the issue, in particular a One State Solution, which seems to me to be the only ethical outcome, however unrealistic and impractical it seems at present. The two other places I linked to were Louer’s article about the demographics in Israel, and Adalah, who recently proposed a new constitution for Israel. Both are relevant to my train of thought here.

    The fact that the rest of the Middle-East is overwhelmingly Arab-Muslim is often cited as a reason for Israel’s continued existence in its current form. The fact that other countries, including the UK, have a state religion, is also cited to the same ends. Katy’s unwritten question is, I think, “how comes you always pick on the Jews before everyone else?”.

    Part of the answer to this, generally, is that the Israel-Palestine situation is the root cause of all the other problems in the Middle-East. I think this has some truth in it, but is difficult territory. Part of my answer is that it is a unique situation, and a high-profile one at that. And another part of my answer is that I am not afraid to argue against state religions in other places too.

    But the real reason I am bringing up these issues, is to argue for the futility of ascribing a religion to a state at all. The Two State Solution would double this problem. A One State Solution would by necessity abolish it, or at least neuter its meaning. As I said in the final paragraph of this controversial post, a One State Solution seems to me to be a more consistent, ethical situation to work for. Cleanthes has, in the past, reminded me of the unlikelihood of such a scenario coming about. I’m not so sure.

    But that’s where the decent debate is, I reckon. The above paragraphs look rather rambling, so Ill try an rework them into a proper post sometime soon.

  13. (Sorry to talk across you Robert. )

    Cleanthes,

    With all of one minutes search plenty of articles pop up that can easily indicate how things are done. You can piece the same thing together in more formal sources like Haaretz. All thats missing in the first article is where the “settlers” come from:

    http://www.alternet.org/middleeast/13269/

    “In November 1999, Ehud Barak’s government, in coordination with settlers, carried out the first expulsion, in which 750 local residents were driven out of their homes on the pretense they were invading state land. Despite a Supreme Court injunction permitting Palestinian residents to return, the cave dwellers continued to be exposed to pressure from the Israeli military and Jewish settlers, including the destruction of dwellings; ruining water holes; uprooting olive trees; and preventing residents from reaching their farming and grazing land.

    Simultaneously, the government continued to expropriate more land, setting up illegal Jewish outposts and issuing writs limiting the stay of Palestinian residents in the area. The principle was to establish a new reality on the ground.”

    First paragraph in this article: http://www.counterpunch.org/avnery1011.html

    “It sounds like a bad joke, but it really happened: A rabbi went from Israel to Peru, converted a group of Native Americans to Judaism, brought them to this country and put them in a settlement, on land taken away from its Palestinian owners.”

  14. That was indeed my unwritten question, and I don’t think that your answers hold up. You don’t really think that Israel/Palestine is a unique situation, do you? The creation of Pakistan raised pretty much the same questions and had pretty much the same fallout. As for states being religious, Iran and Saudi Arabia (to take two examples) are both overtly religious states which treat their non-Muslim minorities as second class citizens. Come to that, religious and ethnic minorities right here in the UK would probably say that they are treated as second-class citizens. And, as I pointed out, the UK operates its very own version of the Law of Return based on ethnicity, as does virtually every other country in the world.

    The only difference is that the Israel/Palestinian conflict has been artfully spun as the source of the problems in the Middle East. It isn’t. It’s an excuse. There are human rights abuses going on in every single country around Israel and plenty of others too, which is why the various boycots of Israeli products and academics that are periodically adopted by unions made up of people who should know better are not only ill-advised and counterproductive – because their impact will be on either academic Israelis who were minded to be critical of Israel’s behaviour or on the very poor Jewish/Arab Israelis whose jobs will be put at risk by economic sanctions – but also discriminatory and hypocritical.

  15. But the real reason I am bringing up these issues, is to argue for the futility of ascribing a religion to a state at all.

    No, you bring these issues up because you have a bee in your bonnet about Israel to the exclusion of most other states.

  16. No, you bring these issues up because you have a bee in your bonnet about Israel to the exclusion of most other states.

    No no no no no. I really do believe that it is futile and offensive to ascribe a religion to any state. When you say: “The UK operates its very own version of the Law of Return based on ethnicity, as does virtually every other country in the world” I say that these systems are equally immoral too. I do not rise to defend them, and it is wrong for you to imply that I do.

  17. I don’t say you do defend them. But whenever you look for an example of particularly bad behaviour by a state, it’s Israel you tend to go for first, and I wonder, as I always do, why it is that Israel is repeatedly singled out to illustrate faults that are in fact shared by pretty much all states.

  18. But if Israel’s relationship to Palestine is the topic of conversation, and the subject of my thoughts, then I hardly think I am in error by being so specific. As I’ve already said, I’ve been pondering a Two State Solution vs alternatives. The actions and laws of other states don’t come into it.

    Where they do come into it, is with reference to the PA and a future Palestinian State with secure borders. Isn’t the principle of Right of Return for refugees also a kind of ‘aliyah’? If Palestine becomes a Muslim state (I note there are no crescent moons on its flag at the moment) then surely the problems and inequalities that Christians and Muslims in Israel complain about will be replicated for Christians and Jews in Palestine. I’m trying to get beyond the rationale that says “well if they’re doing it, so can we”… which is seems to be the underlying argument of your unwritten question!

    And, as I pointed out, the UK operates its very own version of the Law of Return based on ethnicity, as does virtually every other country in the world.

    The more I think about this, the more I am surprised and offended by it. Is there any chance you could give some examples from the UK. If citizenship is granted on the basis of colour of skin or religion, I would be truly shocked.

  19. From what you said above, I more understood you to be talking about the principle of running a state on the basis of a religion, in which case Israel is hardly the only example.

    In fact, Israel is an example of a religious state which on paper extends equal rights to its minorities (for the reasons I gave above I don’t think your example of university credits holds up, because it would clearly be inequitable if having refused to perform national service they nonetheless got the university credits which are a consequence of having performed it – and the admittedly few Arab Israelis who perform national service do get the credits), which is more than can be said for others. Whether people in practice receive equal treatment is a different question. I think it is generally conceded that both Arab Israelis and Sephardi Israelis (Jews of Mediterranean rather than Eastern European descent) suffer from discrimination, and I am sure that as between them Arab Israelis get a more raw deal. But then, as I say, the same is often said of ethnic minorities in this country.

    The UK “law of return” is simply the fact that if you were raised in another country, e.g. South Africa, and you have a certain number of British grandparents, then after a period of residency here you are eligible for British citizenship, whereas if you come from South Africa but do not have the British grandparents you wouldn’t be. Most countries have a similar sort of rule. I’m not saying that it is the same as the Israeli law of return in terms of scope. I’m just pointing out that allowing preferential treatment to people based on their ethnicity or origins is not unusual.

    You may argue that these sorts of rules do not compare to Judaism because Judaism is just a religion. But to describe the law of return as being based on religion fails to take into account the fact that Judaism is more than just a religion. I do not often say this, because it sounds terribly patronising, but it is very difficult to make someone who is not Jewish understand this. I tried to on Pickled Politics once and I’m afraid it didn’t go down terribly well.

    I can’t find the link now so I’ll summarise it. Jews are not just a religion but a kind of extended family. That is born out by genetic research, which shows that most Jews are related, in the sense that they have a common ancestor. This is not the same as being part of a race. The idea of the Jewish “race” is one that was used against us as a group to devastating effect pre-World War II and frequently still is, and it is not supported by genetic testing. So, for example, the Felashas of Ethiopia were tested and found to have the same common ancestor as Jews in Europe and the Mediterranean.

    The point I am trying to make is that basing the Law of Return on Judaism is not quite as arbitrary as, say, announcing that all Christians should be entitled to live in Maryland.

  20. Fine. But doesn’t that very quickly slide into: “they’re in my extended family, so I want them to have more of my tax shekels that those other guys over there…”

    “Extended Family”, race or religion are all acceptable criteria for civic associations within a state. I’m still not convinced that it is acceptable criteria on which to grant citizenship of a state. Drawing a line at parents seems sensible to me.

    The point I am trying to make is that basing the Law of Return on Judaism is not quite as arbitrary as, say, announcing that all Christians should be entitled to live in Maryland.

    I get where you’re coming from, but isn’t it in many ways more arbitrary? I read somewhere that you can claim aliyah even if you are not Jewish, but your grandmother is/was… Is that right?

  21. Yes, that’s right. You can make aliyah if you are a Jew or a Jew’s spouse, the child of a Jew or spouse of the child of a Jew, or the grandchild of a Jew/spouse of the grandchild of a Jew, regardless of whether the Jewish ancestry is on the mother’s side or the father’s side. That means that people who are not Jewish according to the halakah would still be permitted to make aliyah. I am not sure why you think that’s more arbitrary. I suspect it was an attempt to ensure that if anyone tried to go down the Nuremberg Law road again any potential victim of it would automatically have a right to sanctuary in Israel, and would not have to choose between their spouse and their safety.

  22. regardless of whether the Jewish ancestry is on the mother’s side or the father’s side

    Ah, that makes more sense. I heard somewhere that the maternal line carried more weight.

  23. Oh, it does as a matter of religious law (halakah). You are not halachically Jewish unless your mother or maternal grandmother is Jewish. But the Law of Return isn’t the same thing.

  24. Mind you, of course, if your maternal grandmother is Jewish your mother is also Jewish and therefore so are you, unless your grandmother or mother converted to another religion.

  25. Balls. Complete rephrase. You are not Jewish by birth unless your mother is Jewish or you convert. But if your mother converted to Judaism then you are born Jewish. I don’t personally see why it makes a difference whether your father is the Jewish parent or your mother. But that is Jewish religious law; it isn’t Israeli immigration policy.

  26. “Which is one excellent argument in favour of the law of return. Arabs have 99% of the Middle East to play with, Muslims about one third of the world. Jews have – Israel. That’s it”

    Nobody mentions the the right of return to those Arabs in Western Sahara. Kuwait was founded on Iraqi soil. China has annexed Tibet and Mongolia. Jews were kicked out of Iraq. But keep on talking about the “disenfranchised” Palestinians.

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