The question of who is a citizen of Israel is tied to questions regarding the Jewish and democratic nature of the state, conversion, and the absorption of refugees and foreign workers into Israeli society. In this article, guest columnist MK Aryeh Eldad shares his views on who is entitled to be and who should be a citizen of the State of Israel, and asserts that Israel must protect itself from granting citizenship to non-Jews, who may undermine the nature of the Jewish state. Read Former MK Shulamit Aloni's article on the same question
My intent in this article is not to address the abstract question of "who is a citizen" but to state who, in my eyes, should be, and is entitled to be, a citizen of Israel. "Should be" and "entitled to be" are used here not as the usual duplication of terms for emphasis but as two separate subjects for discussion.
The Jewish people is exceptional in human history. There are no historical parallels for its saga: from slavery in Egypt to redemption; from the conquest of the Land of Israel and establishment of the first kingdom to the first exile and the return to Zion; from the second kingdom, the destruction of the Second Temple, and the second exile to the return to Zion in our day after 2,000 years. No other people has managed to preserve its culture, its religion, and its unique character throughout such an extended exile, to revive its language, and to rise from the ashes of destruction. In short, the Jewish people is an anomaly.
Zionism is the liberation movement of the Jewish people, but an atypical one: Every nation that has thrown off the yoke of foreign rule has had to fight the occupiers in order to drive them from its land, whereas Zionism had to first take the Jewish people out of Exile and then conquer its homeland. Moreover, Zionism had to battle both the foreign rulers of the Land and its inhabitants, who were opposed to the Return to Zion.
Israel too—the state of the people that is different from all peoples; the product of a national liberation movement that is different from all others—is an anomaly, different from all other states in the world. It is the only state that exists not only for the benefit of its citizens but for all Jews—including those still living outside its borders. Precisely because virtually all Jewish diasporas in our day are not forced exiles, and any Jew who so desires can immigrate to Israel, the original Zionist call to every Jew in the world to move to Israel is still relevant. The Law of Return—the most important "Zionist" law enacted by the State of Israel—does more than establish guidelines for turning the Jews of the world who immigrate to Israel into citizens of the country; it defines Israel as a Zionist state.
Thus I wish to establish from the outset who should be, and who is entitled to be, a citizen of Israel: Every Jew should make aliyah, and is entitled to be a citizen of Israel. This is Zionism, and this is the definition of the state of the Jews as a Jewish state.
As for the other residents and citizens of Israel, here the state must grapple with the question of migrants to its borders based on international, political, security, human, economic, ethical, and legal factors. With regard to non-Jews, the State of Israel's considerations are similar to those governing immigration and naturalization policies in other countries, though only a few of them share Israel's unusual situation. Israel seems to be the only country in the world whose very existence—and even more so, its very existence as a Jewish state—is called into question.
These doubts are raised not only by its existential enemies from without—Iran and Syria, and the terrorist organizations that control Lebanon and Gaza—but by many of the leaders of the Arab minority, citizens with equal rights in the State of Israel who openly identify with the enemies of the state and who call for its destruction, or at best, its transformation into a binational state, meaning its annihilation as a Jewish state. For this reason, Israel is a state whose war of independence is not yet over. The considerations attached to its physical existence, like those of its existence as the only state in the world designated for the Jewish people—based on both its Zionist perspective and the legitimacy conferred on it by the nations of the world—must be overarching. This is so whether we are discussing the opening of Israel's gates to Arabs or to African migrant workers, to those who come to exercise their "claim of return" and change the character of the state, or those who come to support their distant families and improve their living conditions. In this regard, Israel must protect itself against the desire of millions of Arabs and millions of Africans to migrate to it, even when these waves of immigrants look for openings in the form of "family unification," "refugee status," or other weighty humanitarian arguments.
The position of those who claim that the Jews, of all people—having been strangers and oppressed refugees, persecuted in every country of the world—should be attentive to these humanitarian arguments is surprising, and perhaps hypocritical. We cannot discuss the sad eyes of a child, the son of "legal" or "illegal" migrant workers, without examining the scope of the phenomenon.
The State of Israel must rebuff the citizenship demands of millions of Arabs, even when these are represented by several tens of thousands claiming "family reunification" (and this is always one-way: from Shechem and Jenin to the Galilee and the Negev); or of tens of thousands of Africans, who are the advance guard of millions waiting on that wretched continent and would be happy to flood Israel if it does not lock its gates. Many of those who "in the name of morality" do not wish to lock the door to one child would agree to lock it to a million children.
Already today, Israel is one of the most crowded states in the world, and for "demographic" reasons many Israelis, who do not deny our historic right to Hevron and Beit Lehem, are willing to relinquish the cradle of the Jewish nation solely in order to avoid turning into a binational state, which, as they understand it, is the inevitable outcome if Israel annexes Judea and Samaria. These selfsame people, who take a "leftist liberal" view and support the opening of Israel's gates to foreign migrants in spite of "demography"—thereby forsaking Israel's character as a Jewish state—are willing to separate from the land as well, because of "demography."
Thus the problem of those who support a liberal naturalization policy toward non-Jews is a problem of their identity, which they are trying to repress and resolve through a heterogeneous mixture rather than by consolidation and cohesion. Anyone who still calls himself a Zionist and seeks the continued existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must oppose the lenient naturalization policy with regard to non-Jews. Anyone who has not become a post-Zionist or anti-Zionist, calling for the opening of Israel's gates in the name of democracy or in the name of human values, must understand that he is not dealing with the individual problems of one family, one child, one migrant worker or one refugee but with the right and obligation of the State of Israel to close its gates to foreign migrants from Eritrea or from Shechem, from Somalia or Ramallah, in order to remain a state of the Jews.