A Voyage to the Land of Integration
INTERVIEW WITH HE ALIZA BIN-NOUN, AMBASSADOR OF ISRAEL TO FRANCE
Israel is a country that has the fundamental mission of welcoming men and women from throughout the world who, along with their Judaism, arrive with the diversity of their specific religious practices, cultures and singularities. How can a united country be formed from such an unlimited mosaic? Tenou’a asked the new Israeli ambassador to France how she would answer this question.
ISRAEL WAS CONCEIVED AS A LAND OF REFUGE FOR ALL JEWISH PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD. HOW DID ITS FOUNDERS THINK OF THE INCREDIBLE DIVERSITY OF THE JEWS WHO WOULD COME TO LIVE IN THIS NEW LAND?
For centuries, the Jewish people had dreamed of creating a Jewish State. The dream of returning home is a force that resides within us all, and this probably explains how, since 1948, it has been possible for us to integrate Jews who have come from more than a hundred countries, and who speak nearly eighty languages. This melting pot has allowed different ethnicities, cultures, religions and lifestyles to merge together into one society. Our dream of returning to Zion, Jerusalem, has become our national anthem, the Tikvah or “The Hope.”
To realize this dream, Theodor Herzl, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Ahad Ha’am and, of course, Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion explored different ways by which populations with different origins, cultures, languages and histories could be integrated together in one melting pot. This is how religion, education, language and military service became the motive forces of integration, which have allowed our diverse backgrounds to come together in unity around a common purpose: the creation, development and defense of the State of Israel. A new Jew was born in Israel, the Sabra. Returning to this land, as David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel desired, brought forth a strong Jew, a pioneer who was no longer defined by the diaspora but instead by the land of Israel.
WHAT CONCRETE MEASURES ARE USED TO CREATE A FEELING OF UNITY AMONG ALL THE IMMIGRANTS WITH SUCH DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS?
The Jewish faith is the first point of union. Israel is a Jewish State, the State of the Jewish people. Israel’s founding fathers defined it as the land of refuge for all the world’s Jews. Any member of the Jewish community can immigrate to Israel and receive Israeli nationality. Our Ministry of Integration is charged with welcoming new immigrants, so that they can receive all the aid, housing benefits and occupational training to which they are entitled as soon as they arrive. The State of Israel is one of the only countries to have a Ministry of Integration. From the moment they arrive, new immigrants are considered not as refugees, but rather as our brothers and sisters. They are family members who have come home, whom we are to help and to integrate as best we can. This may be one of the keys to the feeling of unity you mentioned.
Language is another vector of integration. Ulpanim, schools where language is taught, are a priority, and this means that all new immigrants can quickly find their own ways of integrating themselves and opening up to their new lives in Israeli society.
Education is also very important in Israel. All people have access to education and can choose what to study, regardless of their financial resources or origins. Our concern for equality and for defending minority rights is something we have in common with France. Freedom of religion is protected and written into our Declaration of Independence. All believers can exercise their religion freely and attend services in their places of worship.
Military service is one of the important landmarks in the life of Israelis. It is a necessary step, because Israelis are also united by a threat. Israel is a country that lives under the threat of terrorist attacks and of the many wars that seek its destruction. The Army allows young Israeli men and women to meet and get to know each other as they learn how to live together. In this way, Tzahal is a means by which each generation of Israelis can overcome their differences by working together on a single, common project: defending our country.
DO THE MIGRATORY ORIGINS OF THE ISRAELI PEOPLE MAKE THE COUNTRY MORE OPEN AND SENSITIVE TO FOREIGNERS IN GENERAL, WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE JEWISH?
Israel is a Jewish state but its work on integration is exemplary and is certainly universal. Israel is in its essence a Land of Refuge. The OECD ranks Israel as one of the best countries in terms of its integration programs.
Judaism is also distinguished by its open-minded approach to the world. Jewish values are expressed throughout the whole of Israeli democracy. Remember that already in 1948, Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaimed that Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” These values have made internationalism an integral part of Israeli institutions. Israel provides aid to countries throughout the world that have been struck by natural and human disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and attacks. In Haiti, Turkey, Nepal, Kenya, and across Africa, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, MASHAV, works to train its African, Asian, Arab and Palestinian colleagues in environmental, agricultural, scientific and medical fields, sharing its knowledge in an effort to promote the common good.