1/15/2010

Your Gates shall Always be Open

My cleaning help put me to shame this week. There was an almost mythic time in Israel where it could be assumed that even menial workers - street sweepers, milkmen - knew Tanakh or were Torah scholars. I had such a moment with the cleaning help. The surprising part is that he's a Nigerian Christian (more precisely, he's a Biafran Igbo Pentecostal and believes himself descended from the tribe of Ephraim). He's also an informal pastor of sorts, spending a lot of time on the phone with people who call him for advice.

When I picked him up at the bus stop this week, I asked him what he thought about Israel's plans to build fences along the Egyptian border. I was truly curious about what he would say about the matter: on one hand, I could see him favoring Israel's measures as illegal migrants are the greatest threat to the livelihood of the legal ones. In addition to flooding the market with supply and thereby driving wages down, an increase in immigrants can create a backlash from citizens, who would be unlikely to differentiate between West Africans (excl. the Maghreb) and those from the Horn of Africa (incl. the Sudan).

On the other hand, I could imagine that he would want Israel to keep its borders open, either to provide asylum for refugees (and tolerate the migrant workers who came along for the ride) or because he believes that the migrant workers themselves should be given the opportunity to do hard work for decent pay.

He answered me by saying that the Bible says that multitudes of nations shall come into Israel, and that Israel may not close its gates. I asked him if that's from Zechariah, and he answered no, it's from Isaiah 60. We left it there, but I later went and looked it up.

To my shock and embarrassment, Isaiah 60 is my Bar Mitzva haftara (Ki Tavo), and it says precisely what he quoted:
וּפִתְּחוּ שְׁעָרַיִךְ תָּמִיד יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה, לֹא יִסָּגֵרוּ:  לְהָבִיא אֵלַיִךְ חֵיל גּוֹיִם
 And your gates shall always stay open; day and night they shall never be shut - to let in the hordes [possibly] of nations (Isaiah 60:11)
Granted, in fine tradition, F. ripped this verse out of context (no need to take my word for it; read the chapter). Nevertheless, his response contains a very profound truth that we seem to have lost sight of here in Israel.

Discussions about the entry of non-Arab non-Jews into Israel inevitably raise the issue of the integrity of the Jewish state and the demographic threats that it faces. Isaiah and other prophets, and F. in their wake, understand that a Jewish state need not have a Jewish majority. I would add that the converse is true as well - having a Jewish majority does not mean that it is a Jewish state.

Obviously, it is always problematic to apply an apocalyptic vision to a very contemporary situation. Nevertheless, it can be valuable, not only in that prevents us from losing sight of the ideal in the face of the real, but because it may even have practical ramifications.

The gentiles coming to Israel of their own volition - be it from the Phillipines, West Africa, the Horn of Africa, Eastern Europe, Thailand, or anywhere else - are looking for freedom, economic opportunity, or both. These people appreciate what Israel has to offer. They choose to come here despite the bureaucracy and virtually impermeable barrier to citizenship (after all, not even marriages of convenience are permitted). Right now, they are building this country (see ibid. 10) and are willing to do the work that Israelis are not. They are the new kibbutzniks.

Moreover, they overwhelming acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, de facto if not de jure, and some, like F. and his flock, believe Jewish sovereignty here to be ordained by God (and should be welcomed no less than American Evangelicals who believe similarly). They are loyal to the State of Israel, if not outright Zionists.

Were Israel to open the floodgates, it would create a natural population buffer between Jews and Palestinians and ensure that neither becomes a tyrannical majority (possibly paving the way for a workable and peaceful one-state solution, but that's an issue for a different time). Of course, as this group assimilated into Israeli society - becoming citizens, serving in the army, etc. - some serious matters of personal status would have to be resolved (a caste system or legally-enforced Jewish endogamy would become unworkable, if they are not already).

At the very least, it is worth considering how keeping our gates open can transform Israel into a state in which Jews are not a majority, but which is in keeping with the prophetic vision of the Jewish state.
Post a Comment