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Transnational Communities Programme

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Israel’s 50th Anniversary Prompts Surveys of the Jewish Diaspora

Reviews of the country’s history and future as well as the position of the Jewish diaspora marked the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel. The Los Angeles Times published a comprehensive survey and explored the new diversity within the region’s Jewish community. Emigration to Israel shows signs of falling.

The Los Angeles Times and Yedioth Ahronoth jointly commissioned an extensive survey of opinion among American and Israeli Jews. The results of the poll were published in the Los Angeles Times on April 19 and 26 as part of a series entitled ‘Debating Identity: Jews in America.’

The pollsters concluded that American and Israeli Jews were more in agreement over basic issues than in dispute. Almost nine out of every ten American Jews stated that what happened in Israel was important to them personally, and 41% had visited Israel at least once. Over a third of Israelis had journeyed to the USA, and almost three-quarters had friends or relatives in the country. In both countries, the majority thought that US and Israeli Jews will draw closer together over time, despite worsening relations between the two states in recent years. Nearly half of US Jews have made a financial contribution to Israel in some form or another.

The poll also explored opinions on the Oslo peace accord and the possibility of a Palestinian state. Just under half of both groups had an unfavourable opinion of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts for peace. It also analysed different aspects of Jewish identity, including the question of who has the right to decide who is Jewish, attitudes to marriage, assimilation and children. This matter proved divisive. Only 9% of the 5.8-5.9 million American Jews are Orthodox. The Conservative and Reform majority were deeply offended by proposals from Israeli Orthodox rabbis that only they should be allowed to perform marriage ceremonies and determine who should be considered Jewish. Even so, among American Jews there remains a strong and significant attachment to Judaism, although the majority is observing fewer traditions and rituals than they did in the past. Six out of ten married American Jews are married to other Jews. US Jews are evenly split over whether they should assimilate or remain distinct. Younger Jews were more inclined to favour remaining distinct.

Migration to Israel (‘Aliya’) is no longer regarded as essential among US Jews. Data from Israel suggest that fewer Jews are making use of the law of return: 65,962 in 1997, compared with 70,919 in 1996 and 150-200,000 per year during the height of the Russian Jewish emigration in the early 1990s. It is thought that improvements in the quality of life in major Russian cities have encouraged more Jews to remain in the country.

Since its formation in 1929, the Jewish Agency has helped 2.5 million Jews settle in Israel. But with the decline in immigration and a fall off in contributions from the diaspora, the Agency is seen to be under threat.

As part of the same series, the Los Angeles Times published an account of the region’s Jewish population. Los Angeles’s Jewish community is second only to New York’s in the USA. It has become diverse in terms of national origins, with Jews from Israel, Russia, Central Asia, South Africa and Iran. These national communities are to some extent separate within Los Angeles. Parts of the city, including Pico-Robertson, Fairfax and West Hollywood (‘Little Odessa’) remain distinct Jewish neighbourhoods, in addition to several suburban centres. Although only 10% of US Jews are foreign-born, in Southern California the proportion is one in five. They are thought to include 50,000 Israeli Jews, and a large number of Iranian Jews who fled after the fall of the Shah in 1979. South African Jews concentrate in San Diego and Irvine, Orange County.

U.S. and Israeli Jews have many common views, some striking differences, Susan Pinkus, Los Angeles Times 19.4.98; Immigrants bring new diversity to L.A.'s Jewish communities, Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times 22.4.98; American Jews express diverse opinions on Jewish life in the U.S., Sharon Pinkerton, Los Angeles Times 23.4.98; American Jews' distant 'homeland': a shifting dream, a modern nation, Richard Scheinin, San Jose Mercury News 26.4.98; After 50 years flow of immigrants to Israel enters "terminal decline", Charly Wegman, Agence France Presse English Wire 24.4.98; Making connections with the homeland, Liz Warwick, Montreal Gazette 30.4.98


Regional Co-operation and Cross-Border Trade in East and Southern Africa

The East African Co-operation countries, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, announced that there would be delays in the implementation of a single East African Standard Travel Document. The delays were caused by problems of updating computer records in Uganda and Tanzania, for which both countries were searching for funding. The travel document is not intended to replace national passports, but will facilitate movement between the three states. The idea of a single passport was first raised in 1996, and the three countries announced that they expected to complete arrangements by September 1998.

In a related development, the Common Market for East and South African states (COMESA) announced the creation of a special project to aid women traders. COMESA agreed to set up a database and to facilitate exchanges of information among women business travellers across the region. COMESA’s Women in Business initiative has already co-operated with India, Thailand and Sri Lanka on the sharing of expertise and information. Trade in the region has been advanced by the changing attitudes of immigration officers to women travellers, who were once often stereotyped as smugglers.

Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique began discussions on ways of relaxing visa and border taxes between the three countries. There could be also a single visa to encourage cross-border tourism. At present, tourists wanting to visit KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland and southern Mozambique require three separate visas. The initiative is part of a wider process of regional spatial development. Businesses have complained about the excessive border taxes and insurance charges between Mozambique and Swaziland. Operating joint border posts, similar to the one being developed at Komatipoort in the Maputo Development Corridor would speed up the process of crossing the border.

At the same time, the South African Development Community is discussing arrangements for the free movement of all member countries’ citizens throughout the region. In May, South African authorities moved to prevent Swazi children from crossing the border to attend schools in Mpumalanga. They also clamped down on elderly Swazis crossing illegally to collect welfare payments. Despite complaints from Swazi politicians, South African officials stressed that the movements placed heavy pressure on the country’s education and health budgets. They claimed that up to 40% of the children in some schools near the border were non-nationals. There is also resentment against well-educated Swazis taking public sector jobs in South Africa.

For many years a ‘soft border’ had operated between Swaziland and South Africa, and many Swazis have relatives on both sides of the border. Informal crossings by school children had been tolerated for several years, while many elderly Swazis had spent much of their working lives in South Africa.

East African passport runs into new hurdle, Steven Shalita, The East African 9.4.98; Project to boost women traders, Jemimah Mwakisha, The Nation (Nairobi) 19.5.98; Regional visa proposed for tourists to SA, Swaziland & Mozambique, Justin Arenstein, Africa News Service 18.3.98; Multi-national team launched to probe visas, border taxes, Justin Arenstein, Africa Eye News 14.4.98; South Africa clamps down on 'ghost' Swazi population, Africa News Service 7.6.98


Dual Nationality for Overseas Koreans and Vietnamese?

President Kim Dae-jung announced that Korea would consider granting dual nationality to overseas Koreans. The status would give foreign Koreans rights of property ownership, travel and inheritance, but would not require foreigners to complete military service. Overseas Koreans would be able to apply for jobs in Korea on an equal basis with Korean residents. The statement was made during Kim’s visit to Los Angeles. Korea’s justice minister met with US lawyers and representatives of the region’s Korean-American community to discuss the possible reform of citizenship.

Kim spent three years living in the USA during his exile in the 1980s. He identified Korean-Americans in first and second generations as important in relations between the two countries. Kim encouraged US Koreans to become citizens of the USA, participate in government and learn English, while not forgetting their heritage. He emphasised that multicultural and multilingual people would become essential to the Pacific economy. The new provisions would also apply to Japanese Koreans, and Kim called upon them to be more public about their ancestry.

A bill, known as the Basic Law on the Treatment of Koreans Overseas, is due to be submitted to the National Assembly in September.

The National Assembly of Vietnam passed a new citizenship law in May. Its provisions affect the rights of the 2.5 million overseas Vietnamese, known as Viet Kieu. Although the government is wary of the possibility of enlarging the rights of opponents of the communist regime, it also wants to encourage investment from the foreign Vietnamese. The new law forbids holding citizenship of two countries at once, but includes many exceptions, making it much easier for returning Vietnamese to recover full citizenship rights.

South Korea’s President eyes benefits, San Jose Mercury News 14.6.98; Dual US-Korean Nationality nears, K. Connie Kang, Los Angeles Times 14.6.98; Overseas Ethnic Koreans to be given legal protection at home, Korea Times 12.8.98. Vietnamese Assembly passes new citizenship Law, Agence France Presse English Wire 14.5.98


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