This paper examines the public sphere process by which non-citizen children of labor migrants came to be recognized as Israeli citizens. In response to a public campaign, three government resolutions were issued in the 2000s to provide Israeli citizenship for these young non-citizens. Generally, studies of non-citizen migrants have emphasized their deportability and illegality as the primary aspect of the biopolitics of contemporary citizenship. On the other hand, I draw attention to the mass mediated process from which public opinion emerges to set the boundary between citizen and non-citizen. To describe this, I examine the pragmatics of voicing non-citizen children in public discourse. I also describe how legal documentation became the semiotic technology through which public opinion was rationalized bureaucratically.
Israel defines itself as a Jewish state by way of ideology, policy, and constitutionality. Jewish immigration is encouraged, and rewarded with direct access to Israeli citizenship for olim (Jewish immigrants) and their immediate family. The legal situation for foreign, non-Jewish partners, and spouses of Israeli Jewish citizens is different: these non-Jewish immigrants can potentially access Israeli citizenship through the Nationality Law. These different inroads into Israeli citizenship for both groups must be seen in connection to diasporic Jewish history, Israeli history, the country’s geopolitical situation, as well as attitudes toward intermarriage. In practice this means that the incorporation of non-Jewish spouses of olim is a compromise to bolster Jewish immigration, while the problems of incorporating the partners/spouses of Israeli Jewish citizens stem from (historic and current) negative attitudes toward intermarriage, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and labour migration, all of which ramify into the issue of family reunion for all Israeli citizens.