Nationalist Priorities and Restrictions in Immigration: The Case of Israel

Law and Ethics of Human Rights 2 (1):1-19 (2008)
Abstract
It may be that the appropriate demographic objective of Israel as a country in which the Jewish people realize their right to self-determination is the existence of a Jewish public in Israel in numbers sufficient to allow its members to live in the framework of their culture. It may also be that the appropriate demographic objective of Israel should be the existence of a Jewish majority within it. While I discussed this issue elsewhere; here I discuss the legitimate means for the realization of these goals. Israel’s principal means for realizing these objectives thus far has been its Law of Return and its Citizenship Law. These laws afford every Jew anywhere in the world the right to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen of the State of Israel. Many liberals and left-wingers consider these laws to be tainted with racism, because they regard any nationally-based preference with regard to immigration to be a form of racism. In the first part of my paper I argue against this position. I offer three justifications for nationality-based preferences in immigration. However, the fact that nationality-based priorities in immigration are not necessarily racist and that there are legitimate human interests justifying such priorities, does not entail that the specific priorities manifested by Israel’s Law of Return and its other immigration and citizenship policies are just. These policies in effect mean that all Jews and only Jews have the right to immigrate to Israel and to become fully integrated in Israeli life. In the second part of the paper, I argue that these two aspects of Israel’s immigration policies, namely, its almost categorical inclusion of all Jews and its almost categorical exclusion of all non-Jews, are somewhat problematic. In addition to the Law of Return, a number of additional ways to ultimately increase the number of Jews in relation to the number of Arabs have been proposed and even adopted in Israel in recent years. During the incumbency of the fifteenth Knesset, right-wing Member of Knesset Michael Kleiner tabled a draft bill intended “to encourage people that do not identify with the Jewish character of the state [i.e., Palestinian citizens of Israel C.G.] to leave.” The Israeli Government later tabled a bill—that was eventually passed—to amend the Israeli Citizenship Law in a manner that would deny Arabs who are Israeli citizens and have married Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories the right to live in Israel with their spouses and children. In the third part of the paper, I clarify why in contrast to granting Jews priority in immigration, both the aforementioned laws, namely, Kleiner’s law and the law pertaining to family unification are racist and are therefore morally unacceptable
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