Friday, February 18, 2011

A Different Story about Israel

Nearly everything we ever hear about Israel has to do with its relationship with the Palestinians.  No doubt, that’s a complex, contested, frustratingly difficult topic.  Yet it’s not the only story to be told about Israel.  Nor is it the only complex, difficult issue facing the country.  As Dr. Galia Sabar explains in our interview, Israel is facing a challenge that is more familiar: how to deal with immigrants who enter illegally in search of economic opportunity.  Like the US, Israel is a country of immigrants, with a strong commitment to providing a safe haven not only for Jews from around the world but also for other refugees.  And much like here, migrant laborers in Israel, including many Africans whose experiences and conditions are the subject of Galia’s research and activism, do difficult types of work for low wages, thereby contributing to the economy, while also facing discrimination and fear from the mainstream society. 

What’s most refreshing about Galia Sabar’s discussion of these issues, for me, anyway, is her willingness to acknowledge the contradictions inherent in the problem.  On the one hand, she acknowledges the presence of racial prejudice in a country that was built as a response to the Holocaust, one of the most notorious cases of racial prejudice taken to the extreme in the history of the world.  She sees the paradox her country faces over granting citizenship to non-Jews: how can Israel continue to be a Jewish state, as is its mission, while also being a democratic state, especially if non-Jewish immigrants become a large proportion if not the majority of voters?  There are no easy solutions for Israel.  At the same time, the story of African immigration provides an interesting opportunity to expand our understanding of the issues Israel faces and how that country is changing. 

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