Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is Canada Really the Best Teacher?

The Globe and Mail carries an interesting story about how Israel is looking to Canada as a model to integrate the Jewish people with various cultural backgrounds who arrive in Israel.

A recent conference held in Israel indicated that half of the population of Israel were not born in that country and that with people arriving on Israel's shores from disparate backgrounds (for example: Russian, Ethiopian, North African, European, North American and Yemeni) integrating all these people into a single country and into a single national identity is a challenge. Complicating this challenge is that some of these people do not want to be integrated--many Russians who move to Israel are often resented by Sabra's, native born Israelis, for this--and also that in addition to a diverse Jewish population there are of course Arab, non-Jewish minorities as well as migrant workers who come to Israel, largely from Asia, to find work there.

The article notes that Israel will be looking to Canada and its model of a multicultural "mosaic" as opposed to a "melting-pot" to integrate these immigrants with diverse cultural backgrounds into a single Israeli identity without forcing them to sacrifice their various cultures brought with them from their old country.

Two points spring to mind. First, is Canada really such a great model for this? Canadians have long spoken of the "two solitudes" that on the English and the French and how the two have never properly integrated with one another and how there is great misunderstanding and mistrust between the two. Similarly, Canadian treatment of its native population has been, shall we say, less than the ideal. Furthermore, in my estimation, the Canadian model of multiculturalism, to a degree, discourages full integration as cultural communities can be discouraged from "mixing" with one another, even though all of them may be proud Canadians. The result of this is English Canadians knowing little or nothing of French Canadian culture and vice versa, which translates into--in the Canadian case--a certain degree of disunity.

The second point that comes to mind is that Israel will need to decide what they want the overarching Israeli identity to be. It has been repeated that Israel is a Jewish state. Fine, but not everyone in Israel is Jewish, even though Jews are in the majority. If Israel were to model its identity on the Canadian one, it would do well to identify and reproduce a Canadian identity which could perhaps be defined as fluid--one that changes with the types of immigrants who come to Canada to build it. An Israeli identity may want to reflect core Jewish values but recognize that the cultural approach to Judaism, and the Jewish or Israeli identity will necessarily change with each new wave of arrivals from different parts of the world. To tell people that they can come to a country without abandoning their culture means that flexibility is required by the destination country to recognize and accept and accommodate for these cultural differences, insofar as they are not an affront to the key, overarching principles of national identity.


Anonymous said...

And what happens to the Jewish nation when the Jewish demographic is no longer the majority, in oh.. say, likely 30 years?

A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Well, that all depends on what happens with the territories. The birthrates of Arab Israelis are on par or lower than the birth rates of Jewish Israelis (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=727623; http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1084014.html). The territories are another story, the birthrates tehre are different. If Israel gives up the territories then the demograpghic concerns over the character of the state are removed.

Anonymous said...

Good point. I did not know that. I have a hard time believing it though, but I suppose it's not unlikely.

A friend.