Many would define a democracy as a government under which all citizens are equal. Let us consider two democracies: South Korea and Israel. Both are destinations of a high number of immigrants, many of whom are looking to culturally integrate and, moreover, to prosper in a new country. Once, South Korea took pride in its status as a purely Korean society, rich in its maintenance of cultural traditions. However, this recent period of globalization has led South Koreans to understand the value of accepting foreign immigrants into Korean society, particularly to help ensure Korea’s growing economy. Now that the number of marriages of Korean citizens to non-Koreans within Korea has doubled, the definition of ‘Korean’ has gone from representing someone of Korean heritage to including someone who has married into a Korean family or simply worked in South Korea for many years. This process of acceptance has enhanced the democratic image of South Korean society.
In South Korea, it has been about accepting foreigners into the community despite cultural, linguistic and racial differences. In Israel, acceptance of Ethiopian Jews has been mainly an issue of race. For years, Jews of Ethiopian decent have faced low pay, aversion to interracial marriage with Caucasian Jews, more than half of Israeli employers’ reluctance to hire a Black Jew, and their children’s struggle against discriminatory acceptance policies into schools. While Israel’s Operation Moses—intended to bring all Ethiopian Jews to Israel during the 1984 famine in Ethiopia– had honorable intentions, there has always existed and still exists this issue of racism within Israeli society. In terms of acceptance, Israel could learn from South Korea and the increased marriages of Koreans with foreigners. In this globalized era, neither race nor heritage difference is everything, particularly when the people in question share a common culture and religion. After all, Ethiopian Jews are Jewish too, which is supposed to be the most important aspect of status as an Israeli citizen.
Notwithstanding, this notion of the Ethiopian Jew as ‘other’ persists in the Israeli view of Black Jews. In fact, ultra-nationalist ideals have even resulted in some Israelis paying Ethiopian Jews to leave Israel over reluctance to accept Black Jews as part of Israeli society. However, if Israel’s mission of the unification of all Jews holds true, Israeli society will adjust to heterogeneity. Just as the transition of foreigners into South Korean society is slowly being eased, so must the integration process of Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society, both those who have recently immigrated as well as those born in Israel. Particularly provided their status as Jews, Ethiopian Jews have just as much right to live in Israel as a Jew of any other background. South Korea is moving beyond the barrier of race and cultural background and so must Israel, in its claim to welcome Jews from all Diaspora countries.
At the end of the day, no nation remains homogeneous forever. Every nation faces the question of how heterogeneity will be tolerated. South Korea is slowly becoming more diverse in accepting and integrating new immigrants from other East Asian countries and elsewhere. Israel, as diverse a community as it is, would do well to follow suit, especially given that these Ethiopians are just as Jewish as Israel’s other Jewish citizens and as such, deserve an equal place in the Jewish State. After all, if South Korea can learn to accept immigrants from different races and religions, then Israel can certainly overlook race in its mission to unite people of the same faith. Such social equality despite heterogeneity is a defining aspect of any true democracy. Just as higher integration rates of foreigners into Korean society has led to more foreigners desiring business with South Korea and the subsequent improvement of the South Korean economy against competitors such as China, greater effort to accept Ethiopian Jews will lead to an enhanced image of Israel as a country for the entire Jewish nation, in both the Israeli domestic and international arenas. Particularly in such times as those of Israel’s current elections, Israeli leaders must heed the needs of all of their citizens in order to maintain the country’s status as a democracy.
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