Yup, Israel has decided to build a fence, equipped with surveillance equipment along parts of it’s border with Egypt. Now of course, this won’t be as big a project as building a fence along a border as long as the US-Mexican border , but still, it’ll cost a billion shekels or about 190 million euros, to cover around 270 km of border.

Of course, terrorism is a reason given. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said “I took the decision to close Israel’s southern border to infiltrators and terrorists.” Any good big policy plan needs a link to the war on terror right?

And, to hit another key point in any immigration discussion, they want to keep out those pesky poor people, er, excuse me, “economic migrants.” It seems that immigrants from Africa have been increasingly crossing over into Israel. “Israeli police say between 100 and 200 African migrants arrive every week.” And of course there is the usual disagreement about why they come – Israelis say it’s for money, and other groups say there are a significant number fleeing political persecution. Why the latter is more legitimate than the former remains a mystery to me, no matter how many times I see the assertion repeated.

This is all pretty typical, fairly uninteresting. What got me were these two statements, one from Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

We need a fence, as I said 10 years ago, with all of our neighbours …. With the Palestinians we need two states for two people, a fence that will surround a solid Jewish majority, we will be here and they will be there.

and another from Netanyahu:

This is a strategic decision to secure Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.

Immediately, this just sounded wrong to me. I know. It’s a Jewish state. Which, of course, one has a problem with anyways when one believes firmly in the separation of religion from the state and any sort of public policy. But the wrongness just becomes extra clear when politicians are literally saying “we need to keep them out because their not Jews.”

What if a politician in the States said (and I’m sure plenty think it and some have probably come close to saying it) “We’ve got to keep these people out because they’re not Christian.” And I don’t mean some fringe, wing-nut, but the people who actually make the policy. Like, what if Janet Napolitano came out and said that? Just really, try to imagine that. A fundamentalist Christian local politician could probably get away with it rallying people up on anti-immigrant bluster, but on a national level, as a justification for programs already underway, it would be almost unthinkable. And that is because, of course, unlike Israel, the idea (if not the practice) of the separation of religion from government policy is enshrined in our constitution.

And that ideal is enshrined that way because anything else would be morally indefensible.  And if it would be morally indefensible in one place, it’s morally indefensible anywhere. That’s how the whole morality thing works (which of course people forget/ignore/deny all the time, but I’m for one am not much of a moral relativist). A lot of people, in discussing the Israel-Palestine problem, seem to take it as a given that, yeah, the idea of a Jewish state is legitimate. But why? We don’t accept the idea put forth by many of our own, US bible thumpers that the US should be a Christian state. We certainly don’t like the idea of Muslim states, oh dear no. But we make this radical exception when discussing Israel, and reading this statement about preserving the Jewsishness of the place, just made me stop and think.

Of course many people I know, and many friends even, would probably jump right in with a vehement defense of why there must be a strictly Jewish state, and who might be very angry with me for writing something like this. But I can’t help feeling like, this just can’t fly in the world we live in, this uberglobalized world, where borders in many senses are becoming more and more meaningless. It seems somehow backwards, and an insensitive denial of reality, to defend the artificial determination of a region’s demography by narrow ethnic concerns instead of the needs of the poor, starving, persecuted, disposessed and yes, the just plain ambitious who want to do better (as if that’s something to hold against a person!).

Basically, that phrase made it clear to me just what an exception we make in our moral judgements in general when discussing Israel, how we make room for public policy that elsewhere would be as I said, indefensible.

If you can’t be Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/Pagan and live among other, different people, what good are you? If you can’t be human, and live among other, different people, what good are you?