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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ethnic-Priority Immigration in Israel and Germany: Resilience Versus Demise


After World War II, Israel and Germany adopted curiously similar policies of ethnic- priority immigration, accepting as immigrants only putative co-ethnics. The first objective of this article is to provide analytical descriptions of an understudied type of immigration, which is entirely a political artefact and also offers a window into the constitution and contestation of the boundaries of the national community. The second objective is to account for the main variation between the two cases, the resilience of Jewish immigration in Israel, and the demise of ethnic-German immigration in Germany. The very fact of divergent outcomes casts doubt on a “primordialist” account of ethnic-priority immigration, which sees the latter as emanating—in a direct and unproblematic way--from an “ethnic” (as against “civic”) definition of nationhood. We point instead to the possibility of “liberal” and “restrictive” contention surrounding ethnic-priority immigration, and argue that for historical and geopolitical reasons the political space for such contention has been more constricted in Israel than in Germany.

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