Assimilation in Israel


Most nations have some kind of Department, Service, or Ministry of Immigration. Israel has something a little different. It has a Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. This suggests that Israel has a clearer view of the immigration problem than you find in North America.

Israel really is a “nation of immigrants.” While Jews have lived in Israel for the last 3000 years, most of the residents have come since 1947. The Law of Return allows any Jew anywhere in the world to move to Israel, and Israel will be glad to help them move in.

But it insists that they assimilate.

The Diaspora sent Jews to every corner of the globe, and there are Ethiopian, Goanese, Russian, and American Jews, all of them speaking different languages, and having different local customs.

This could lead to chaos, and to a certain extent it does. (But then, it does in North America, too.)

Absorption Centers are apartment buildings with schoolrooms, attached, are set up throughout the country. Residence in them is voluntary, of course, but assisted by government loans and grants.

But you have to study the language of the country:

Almost every absorption center has classrooms for Hebrew study, or Ulpan. A few absorption centers do not offer classes on-site, but they are associated with nearby Ulpanim. In any case, the five-month Ulpan is compulsory for all absorption center residents.

Why do you have to study the language of the country?

Hebrew study is central to the absorption center`s goal, which is your rapid and relatively painless entry into Israeli society.

Once immigrants can speak Hebrew, they generally enter another assimilationist program – one I, as a libertarian, deplore, but which certainly tests an immigrant`s loyalty to his new country: compulsory military service.

I suspect that the IDF does have some of its immigrant soldiers speaking English as a lingua franca at the platoon level, but it`s an officially unilingual army, without the attempts at bilingualism that have crippled Canada`s Armed Forces and are just starting in the U. S. Army.

I wouldn`t suggest that U. S. start a similar program. But if we`re going to continue to give government money to legal and illegal immigrants then why not make it contingent on attaining some language proficiency?

June 13, 2001