The Israeli Case: Lessons from Integrating Russian and Ethiopian Immigrants, 1989–1992

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The paper presents an account of the Israeli government’s efforts to absorb and integrate an influx of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia. With fewer than five million persons, Israel accepted 400,000 Jewish refugees between 1989–1992. At the time, the Israeli government discouraged granting of political asylum to tens of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees from East Africa. Furthermore, an Israeli law prevented family reunification of Israeli Arab citizens who married Palestinians living outside of Israel (including the occupied territories). The paper looks at policies designed to provide housing and education to the Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. Israeli absorption policies were not coordinated. Prime Minister Shamir later told the author “Who needed policy? Let them come and we will make policy.” Policies gave preferential treatment to Russian immigrants who had more clout than the Ethiopians. They also had greater social capital. While the national government and the Jewish Agency, an NGO representing world Jewry, set immigration policy, mayors had some input in implementation. One mayor discussed here used absorption of immigrants as a means to foster local economic growth and development. The major finding here is the importance of “political will”. Israeli government officials and much of the Israeli population favoured mass immigration of Jews regardless of where they were from. Israeli leaders want to preserve a Jewish majority among its citizens. With respect to lessons for the EU, the findings here suggest that the successful absorption and acceptance of refugees lies in the attitude of the host country toward immigration. Policies and issues of coordination and implementation are secondary concerns. In the Israeli case despite the lack of adequate resources and lack of coordination absorption of immigrants succeeded.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-464
Number of pages18
JournalCroatian and Comparative Public Administration
StatePublished - 4 Oct 2018


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