Israel's immigration policies: The twofold face of the 'demographic threat'

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This article deals with the discursive practices employed in various public sites of Israeli society to support and legitimise the immigration policy towards prospective immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) from 1989 to 1990. During those years Israeli society witnessed one of the country's biggest immigration waves. However, like many state policies, Israel's immigration policy towards prospective immigrants from the FSU has not been carried out uncontested. There were vibrant and often heated public disputes concerning this policy. The purpose of the article is to reveal the racist attitudes of Israeli society expressed in the discursive practices that have been employed to support immigration from the FSU in these public disputes. Assuming an inextricable combination of old and new racism, these practices - involving processes of adverse racialisation of Arabs and Mizrahi Jews - have portrayed them as a demographic threat to Israeli society, a threat that can be forestalled by the admission of prospective immigrantsftom the FSU. However, the fact that these processes are not directed only against Arabs but also against Mizrahi Jews discloses some of Zionism's inner tensions and ambivalence. It challenges the thesis advanced by Lustick, for instance, that the exclusive goal of Israel's immigration policies is to marginalśe and to contain the Palestinian minority by allowing the entrance of non-Jews to Israel as long as they are not Arabs. Not disputing the immensely significant role that the goal of Palestinian containment plays in Israel's immigration policies, I intend to show that this goal exists alongside a perception of Mizrahim as a 'demographic threat' to Israel's 'European character.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-218
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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