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Israel’s ‘Anchor Baby’ Issue: A Conundrum for a Jewish State

Israel is dealing with the same problem now arising in the U.S., to the degree that PM Netanyahu had to speak on the issue this week.

by
Stephanie L. Freid

Bio

July 30, 2010 - 12:00 am
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The children in question are either Israeli-born or have spent a good deal of their childhood in Israel, but their legal status in the country is questionable.

“The issue touches on two things,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting. “One is humanity, and the other is a Jewish and Zionist state.”

While Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce’s proposed bill denying U.S. born children of illegal immigrants citizenship is being described as a morally bankrupt, punitive crusade, Netanyahu’s priority is to preserve a Jewish democratic majority in Israel in the face of burgeoning neighboring Muslim populations — and, most recently, Iran’s cash incentive for babies.

Israel lacks a formal immigration policy for non-Jews, so children born in the country to foreign workers are in limbo. They attend state schools, speak Hebrew, and even sing Jewish-themed songs at holiday time. But because they are non-citizens, they are candidates for deportation.

The Interior Ministry Population and Immigration Authority committee is recommending children be permitted to stay in Israel if they came to the country before age 13, or have resided in Israel for at least five consecutive years and are enrolled in state primary or secondary schools. Younger siblings of children who meet those criteria will also be allowed to stay in Israel.

Currently families have three weeks to file for stays, but one cabinet minister is seeking an extension. Those who do not meet the criteria will be given 30 days to leave Israel voluntarily.

Critics of deportation call it immoral, as do thousands of protesters who have gathered numerous times in bids to keep the children and their parents in the country.

Israel’s Trade and Labor minister says the state has no moral right to deport even a single child, and that all children must be kept in Israel. At the same time, he advocates preventing an ongoing similar situation by tightening restrictions on unauthorized workers and coming down on infiltrators with “an iron fist.”

As with Arizona’s proposed bill, the future of children is at stake. But unlike the “anchor baby” issue, the chief concern in Israel is not of a plotted, covert attempt at “hijacking the state’s wealth.” It’s about numbers and demographics, and finding a humane solution to a cruel circumstance.

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Stephanie L. Freid is a freelance writer in Israel.
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