As President Trump seeks to maintain white Christian hegemony, the Jewish state can serve as a case study of nationalism run amuck — and what that means for the ‘others’ who live there.
Israel’s founding premise that it would be a “Jewish and democratic” state has always meant that if the state wants to remain democratic it must maintain a Jewish majority. Artificially maintaining a certain ethno-religious majority has led Israel to take some decidedly undemocratic measures against various minority populations.
In the United States these days, President Donald Trump is also seeking to maintain a particular ethno-religious hegemony — that of white Christians. What does that mean for the future of the United States and its democratic institutions? Israel, where questions of national identity take on existential proportions, can provide important lessons. The Jewish state can serve as a case study of nationalism run amuck and what that means for the “others”—in this case, non-Jews—who live there.
My new book, “The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others,” focuses on two groups of “others” in Israel: migrant workers from Southeast Asia and African asylum seekers. Significantly, a large number of the asylum seekers in Israel are from Sudan, one of the countries on Trump’s “travel ban” list, which has also been referred to as the “Muslim ban.” Who are these people that are targeted by both Trump and Israel? Why did they leave Sudan? What were they escaping? What are their hopes and dreams for the future?
“The Unchosen” offers an intimate look at the lives of Sudanese asylum seekers. Almost all African asylum seekers in Israel are denied legal status — and while Israel claims that they’re actually illegal work migrants, the state can’t deport them because to do so would violate the international law against repatriating asylum seekers to a country where they could face persecution or death. So Israel keeps them in legal limbo, hoping that they will “self-deport” if you will.
To maintain its Jewish majority, Israel uses a variety of policies that, taken together, also constitute a Muslim ban. Palestinian refugees cannot return to the lands they lost during the 1948 war. For nearly 15 years, a law banning family unification means that if a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza marries a Palestinian who lives in Israel, they cannot come to Israel to reside with their...Read More