From Mr Zachary Mollengarden.
Sir, With reference to your report “Africans rally over Israel asylum” (January 6), for many Israelis, Jewish statehood is inextricably tied to Jews’ history as a persecuted and homeless people: “a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22) from Pharaoh’s Egypt to Hitler’s Germany. The strangers that took to the streets of Tel Aviv recently will likely receive little sympathy. Indeed, the persecuted, most from Sudan and Eritrea, are “infiltrators” in the eyes of Israeli law. In lieu of formal recognition as refugees – a privilege granted to fewer than 1 per cent of applicants – many of the migrants live under temporary collective protection, an unstable status that denies them a legal place in the labour force as well as much of the material support due to formally recognised refugees.
For other Israelis, the crux of a Jewish state lies instead in its adherence to religious principles. Yet here, too, it is difficult to reconcile Israelis’ sense of identity with their government’s actions. Exodus 12:19, 12:48-49; Leviticus 16:29, 17:15, 18:26, 19:34, 24:16; Numbers 9:14-15, 9:19, 9:29-30; Joshua 8:33; and Ezekiel 47:22 all reiterate the assertion that there shall be no distinction between the foreigner and the Israelite: “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.”
In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that, without a more forceful approach, African migrants would soon “inundate the state and, to a considerable degree, cancel out its image as a Jewish and democratic state”. The question before the Israeli government and its citizens is what a Jewish and democratic state truly looks like. Positive answers are elusive. However, considered alongside images of Israel as a home for the persecuted, or Israel as a political manifestation of Judaism’s religious ideals, the government’s actions seem to redefine rather than “preserve the nature” of Jewish statehood.
Zachary Mollengarden, London E14, UK