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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Proportionality and Non-Indifference in Our Response to Immigration

Filed under: Europe, International Law

The point of view I’d like to present is that of a moral conception that we share. Not my system of values – say a Jewish or personal – but what every democracy shares with every other democracy: namely the protection required of human dignity, [and] respect for human dignity. A human person is something special, and it’s not a device, it’s not a tool, it’s a human being and we have to respect humanity, which means freedom and wisdom of every single human person. That’s the starting point and I take it that every democracy, being a democracy, means protecting human rights, the rule of majority for taking collective decisions; I mean all our consequences of the idea of respect for human dignity of every person.

Now I’d like to very briefly mention a few consequences that are related to immigration problems from this perspective. We used to think that the most difficult problem internationally and morally is that of wars; how to behave during wars because wars bring with death and destruction and disaster, and how can how can we avoid wars. [We] already conduct our own activities within war in a moral way. We used to think that that is the most difficult problem to address, but I think by and large the world has solved the moral problem of war, of conducting war, in waging war, not that the world is behaving properly but we know what would it take to behave properly. When is waging a war justified, what can be done during a war what shouldn’t be done during a war, and we are doing it, we are developing the conventions and the norms and the understanding and the rules of conduct and the rules of engagement and everything else in in a reasonable way. When we look at democracies, not when we look at their enemies, however, now it seems that immigration is the most difficult problem. Not war but immigration. How to behave facing immigration is the most difficult issue; it is a difficult issue because it has many stages, many different situations, many considerations. I mean if you look at the stages that one person moves through from one’s source state until one gets into some target state, if you look at all the stages in between, you see how complicated is the issue and so we must start thinking about how to conduct our behavior, our means [as] democratic states, [and] the behavior of a democratic state when we face immigration.

And since it’s very difficult and very complicated, I’d like just to put forward very briefly five points. There are something like five hundred points that should be addressed but I’d like to do just five: First of all this isn’t from a moral point of view, but also, as Fiamma said, also from a Jewish point of view. I mean we could not be indifferent to human suffering, but put very generally – I mean I’m not saying that we should do this or that when we face human suffering but we cannot indifferent to it – we are responsible for the well-being of our citizens as a state, we are responsible to the well-being of every person under our effective control (could be tourists, could be workers, could be Palestinians in the areas in which we have effective control) I mean we have responsibilities which are very heavy, but we also have a responsibility to ask ourselves what should be done, what can be done when we face human suffering somewhere, and Israel has given excellent examples in providing humanitarian help when there is some natural catastrophe; the IDF has a unit you deploy a unit for helping people under such circumstances, it is deployed instantaneously and it reaches the place quickly and it is small but very effective. When the United States delegation reaches those place then they do the job because there are 100 times larger and richer, and say they can help much more than a small delegation can help. But our declaration comes first and does it very quickly and very effectively, and on the Red Cross scales of significance of rescue operations we are number one.

So we are not indifferent to suffering that is not related to us, more than through the idea that those are human beings suffering. I mean Haiti, Nepal, Greece, Turkey, to which we sent our delegations, we showed that we are not indifferent. I mean if you look at the general emotional and reasonable attitude of Jews towards what happened during World War Two, not the Holocaust which is obvious, but the behavior of the other parties of the Allies, I mean they did not act this way of being involved in trying to rescue the Jewish people, they were indifferent to a large extent. If you look at the famous picture of a bomb above Auschwitz, okay you see a bomb as thrown from a plane above Auschwitz. Now if you know what is the track that the bomb takes, it’s not meant for Auschwitz; it’s meant for something beyond Auschwitz that they bombed because there was some site of strategic interest, so that indifference is inexcusable. And so we don’t want to be like that, and from a moral point of view nobody should be like that. I mean indifference to human suffering is out of the question. Indeed there is the practical issue; okay I’m not indifferent but what am I going to do? Okay as a state, which is a very difficult question, that’s one point.

A second point on the other end of the same scale. I start with people suffering, now let’s look at this state that is the target state of some people who are suffering. I’d like to stress the point that states, many of the states that are present here, have a national identity which is cultural identity, which is sometimes religious identity and that should be left intact. I mean unless a state decides to become multicultural because the people want to become like Canada, unless that is the case – and I’m not familiar with any case like that – okay people don’t give up their identities, then they have a right to maintain their identity, their identity on those different levels which means that they have the right to stop other people from taking steps that jeopardize that identity. If something jeopardizes that identity then I have a right to stop it. However, here the key word is proportionality. I mean in order to protect my national identity there are different things I can do: I can put a number and say this is the number of immigrants I’m willing to absorb in my state because they’re suffering, not because they want to infiltrate and be a terrible terrorist but because they’re really suffering.

Now proportionality means that that number could never be zero because you don’t change the nature of the identity of your state. If there are some dozens or some hundreds even some thousands of people who are of a different nature that you have rescued from their horrible conditions, where should you put your threshold is [your] sovereignty and your considerations and nobody should tell you where to put it. What we can tell you is zero is unacceptable, but whether it should be one hundred thousand or a million or half a million… I mean to take an excellent example [it’s] for Germany to decide what is the number of immigrants that Germany can absorb, we are not going to tell them because everything we do in order to eliminate as much as possible the suffering, I mean sovereignty of states remains intact. I mean we are not going to dissolve the whole system of states and not going to touch sovereignty – okay here is a state, it is a democracy, it’s sovereign and let it continue to be like that – but we can argue that certain steps taken by a state seem incompatible with respect for human beings. I mean setting the threshold at zero is incomparable. There are examples, I don’t want to go into the details, of the French history and policy, but if the idea that a Muslim girl cannot go to school and show that she is Muslim or a Jewish boy cannot go to school showing with the yarmulke on his head that he’s Jewish, I mean that’s too much, that’s not proportional okay. You can maintain your cultural identity, your secular identity in in France without telling them don’t wear that headwear. So I mean we can we can say all kinds of things but not too much.

Thirdly, in between, if we don’t look at the suffering person in the source country neither do we look at a person in the target country, in between there are certain populations we have to discuss. One of them is people under danger and every once in a while we see pictures of people who have suffered so much and have not been rescued by forces that could have rescued them. But people under a real immediate threat should be rescued. Now, rescued doesn’t mean being given a passport, right? Rescued is one thing and being given citizenship and a passport is another thing, but there should be ways of allowing people to enter a State, it could be even certain villages or certain towns, a certain city which would be a place in which those people could concentrate, being parties to building it, to developing it, to enjoying it within the framework of the state, where questions of citizenship, of permanent residence and things like this a left aside for a while because they are being they’re being rescued from a danger.

Fourthly, there is the population of people who have already entered a state and resided there, say for decades, and married and where [they] have been employed by someone and raised children, that the state is their homeland. I mean they are not familiar with any other state, they speak the language, they went to schools, they are integrated into the society of that state. So I think those people, if the numbers allow it, if the numbers do not jeopardize the protection of the identity (cultural identity, national identity of the state) those people should be allowed to stay under certain conditions.

Finally, fifthly, I think that the world naturally spends a lot of attention and money and efforts looking at the present problem. However, from a moral point of view you must take into account the long range possibilities and contingencies as well. I think that for those immigrants whose problem is humanitarian – neither political nor religious or whatever – for those who are suffering we must spend our efforts and our money on improving the situation in the source state. We can spend a lot of money on building the naval forces that stop them from entering a certain shore, but we can spend that money or at least part of it on building a village, building a hospital, building a school, building something in the source state in order to improve their situation, in order to practically convince those people who emigrate for humanitarian reasons to stay and not to emigrate. Indeed this must be a global, a highly global, extremely global enterprise; no state could take responsibility for such a project. I mean neither Israel nor any other state that is represented here at this table can be responsible for improving the economic situation in Africa for example, I mean that’s beyond the powers of every state indeed, but it’s not beyond the power of humanity if we look at coordinated efforts of all democratic states. I mean we can do a lot in order to improve the situation on a humanitarian level. There are indeed many more issues that can be addressed, but I think that from a moral point of view immigration must be treated and the human suffering must be diminished as much as possible without ruining anything which is important in our lives.


I thank you for your comments; actually I happen to be in agreement with all the comments that have been made here, I mean there’s no strong disagreement or debate about any major issue. I’d like to put [forward] very briefly two points: first of all, I mean we are used to thinking in terms of the requirements of domestic law and then international law, and they are not very helpful on those issues and I think the level on which we have to think about all those problems of migration is that of policies, I mean governments in democracies of policies. The law does not require them and their many conditions to adopt a certain policy rather than another; that’s their value system of the government of the parties that constitute the government. I think the issue of how to express loyalty to the basic ingredients of a democratic regime is in the law, is in the Constitution, is in domestic law but let’s leave all those aside and think about how do we express them on the level of the policies of the government. The government, any government of democracy ought to have a policy concerning migration, right, some policy?

Now my second comment is that we are used to thinking in terms of solving problems: okay there is a problem let’s break our heads, we have experts, many intelligent people everywhere and we’ll solve the problem. But that’s a misrepresentation of the situation, I think. First of all there are many problems, not just one single problem, there is a whole cluster of problems. We cannot solve one of them or come close to solving one of them and that’s it; we have different problems and we have heard here some major examples. Secondly, I don’t think that we have to solve any of the difficult problems. We have to show that we are interested in approaching a situation where those problems have been addressed and we are now a few inches closer to the solution. The solution could come 50 years from now or 70 years from now, we cannot solve it, but by doing something and then and then, they’re hoping that the problem will be solved and disappear. That won’t happen with any major issue but we have to show, I think in the policies of democratic governments, that we are not indifferent, that we do something. There is human suffering there, let’s locate certain types of human suffering, ok we are not indifferent; we do something. Is that something going to solve the problem? No, it’s not going to be the solution of the problem. Is it more than zero? Yes it’s more than zero, it does something! I mean if you build the village in Africa then, well it’s just the village in Africa right, that tens of millions of people suffering and you [only] improve the situation of two thousand of them. Well the two thousand out of ten million [is not a lot] but it’s a wrong perspective I think. Well there are two thousand people whose life has become much better and the children live under much better conditions.

So we don’t have to think in terms of the ultimate solution of the whole problems, I mean we step by step, inch by inch with much patience… I mean we have a century for solving the problem, right? So let’s do something, but not doing anything is very conspicuous. If you decide it’s an unsolvable problem and I’m not going to spend my time on it, let’s do nothing… well that’s conspicuous. You’re indifferent but don’t be indifferent. We shall show the opposite attitude without committing yourself to being able to invest all your resources and to give up your cultural identity and things like this in order to improve the situation elsewhere. So there are many problems that each of them could be approached rather than really solved.