Immigration and Democracy

Ha’aretz reports that Minister Ophir Pines-Paz of the Labor party has set up a committee to review Israel’s immigration policy, driven by Israel’s desire to be a Jewish State and thereby encourage Jewish immigration and citizenship. This matter–the favoring of Jewish applicants for citizenship over non-Jewish applicants–is at the heart of the claim of some that Israel is a racist state, and an integral part of their claim that Israel cannot be both a Jewish State and a democracy.
But claiming that Israel cannot be both Jewish and Democratic misses the point of democracy. Democracy is a means, not an end. It is a means for a people to determine its own destiny, and decide those questions that affect their lives on a collective scale. Democracy should not be a trap for peoples who do not want to live together–in fact, forcing peoples to be in the same state when they do not desire to do so is resolutely anti-Democratic, which is why the European Union will not be able to form until all members of the Union democratically decide to complete the process by ratifying their constitution.
Palestinians should be able to determine their own destiny, democratically, and elect representatives to do the will of their people as long as that will does not take away from the liberties afforded to their citizenry. Jews, too, should be able to determine their own destiny, as long as the actions they decide upon do not harm the liberties afforded to non-Jewish citizens. Since immigration is the process of gaining citizenship, and the people are by definition not yet citizens, the State’s actions need not be limited by the preferences of those who would like to join into its ranks. Instead, the citizens of Israel should be able to decide what criterion they would like to set for those who would like to gain citizenship–and to decide this democratically, through voting.
If the US decides that highly educated people should have an easier time immigrating than impoverished workers, that is the decision of the citizens of the United States of America. If it decides that any person born to an American abroad has the right to American citizenship, that is the decision of the citizens of the United States of America. If the State of Israel decides that any person born to a Jew abroad has the right to Israeli citizenship–whether Black, White, Asian, Latin, etc.–that is the decision of the citizens of the State of Israel. It would be anti-Democratic to deny from them that right.

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