Thursday, January 23, 2014

Assimilation and Human Diversity

"According to a 2010 Brandeis University study, coming to Israel on a Birthright tour is 'strongly associated with measurable decreases in the probability of intermarriage.'  The Prime Minister’s Office, in conjunction with the Jewish Agency and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, is in the early stages of planning a massive Diaspora initiative that is expected to pump over $1 billion into joint projects with Jewish communities around the world over the next two decades. Expanding Birthright is one of the most common ideas raised by Jewish leaders in the United States when discussing how to combat assimilation."

In a Western World and especially in a country (Canada) where multiculturalism is official policy and intercultural and inter-racial partnerships are to be regarded as being free from criticism, this piece from the Jerusalem Post highlights an opposite trend.  Birthright is an organization that funds 'Diaspora Jews' aged 18 to 26 on a ten-day visit to Israel. In addition to the usual purpose of organizations that promote a nation's virtues to foreigners (Goethe Institute, British Council, etc.), it seems that Birthright has a mission to deter mixed marriages.

Israel is an unusual state, begun to create a homeland for people of a specific race with its own specific religion, and yet where relatively few of them were living at the time of its creation. More usual perhaps would be Nunavit and Eire, created in the same century as a homeland for people who already formed the majority in situ and where preserving their culture is a key raison d'etre.  Israel needs immigrants more than most.  It has a remnant indigenous population (Israeli Arabs) where their language too is official in the parliament and public signage. Yet it fosters only a single race for new citizenship and works actively to discourage their fraternization with others leading to marriage.

It is being said more and more these days that the preservation of human diversity should be given greater priority, a priority more like that biodiversity has now. Usually this enthusiasm is applied to threatened aboriginal cultures and languages, where assimilation or even extinction is imminent.  The argument is that different tongues, social mores, and ways of thinking enrich the human experience just as plant and animal diversity enrich the planet. Applying an anti-assimilation strategy to an advanced and globally widespread culture like modern Judaism is novel. Assimilation - cultural, linguistic or even racial - has been a historic norm in mankind's conquests and colonies probably ever since the distant past when more than one race of man co-existed.

Israel therefore is in many ways a unique experiment. Its founding assumption is that the culture can only be safely preserved if the race from which it derives holds the levers of power and the tools to retain a safe majority in a distinct territory. As Western societies like Canada pass into a period where whole regions will have a majority population no longer from the founding cultures or religions, the Israeli experience is one to watch.