This post is part of a week-long series of interviews with Jewish Israelis discussing their connection to the idea of Zionism. We hope this series will spark a conversation over the what Zionism means today. For more on these interviews see this post.
As an attorney for a NGO that advocates for workers’ rights, Hanny Ben Israel, 29, sees the many faces of Israel’s problems on a daily basis. Though some of the complainants she sees are Israeli and Palestinian, most are migrant workers hailing from places like India, Thailand, Nepal, and the Philippines. The immigration policies these foreigners are subjected to—in particular, the policies that penalize migrant women for pregnancy and childbirth by revoking their legal status or those that prohibit marriage between migrant workers—are, Ben Israel says, psychotic.
“Right now the immigration policy basically says ‘you’re good enough to be a worker but not to be a full person,’” Ben Israel observes.
Ben Israel’s statement illuminates one side of the recent debate regarding the status of migrant workers and their children.
In July, the Oz taskforce, an arm of the Interior Ministry’s Migrant and Population Authority, began cracking down on illegal residents. The Oz unit also began enforcing the hitherto ignored Gedera-Hadera policy, which states that asylum seeks—which, in Israel, means African refugees—must reside outside of the Israel’s center, bound by Gedera and Hadera. The Oz unit was also poised to begin deporting families of illegal workers, including their Israeli-born-and-raised children, as of August 1.
Thanks to public outcry, however, the Gedera-Hadera policy was revoked and the deportation of children has been delayed as the government formulates a policy regarding the minors of illegal residents.
To Ben Israel, whose grandparents immigrated to Israel from Russia and Poland in the 1930s, the solution is fairly simple—let them stay. “If we are going to sustain an economy on migrant workers we should give them citizenship or at least permanent residence,” she says. “We can’t build a society on exclusive and excluding terms.”
The country’s current attitudes and laws stem from “an obsession with demographics,” she says. “If you’re not Jewish, you’re indefinitely barred from joining the collective.”
To Ben Israel, who is secular, being Israeli means participating in a shared culture and language, “Filipinos can join in; Thais can join in.”
Still, she feels that history has proven a need for the Jewish people to be “authors of their own fate.”
“But the moral argument for Zionism, as rooted in the rights of people to self-determination, is gone when you deny the same right to others,” Ben Israel remarks. “The distance that I see between what used to be the promise of Israel and the current state is painful for me.”