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Latino Migrants in the Jewish State

Undocumented Lives in Israel

Barak Kalir

Publication Year: 2010

In the 1990s, thousands of non-Jewish Latinos arrived in Israel as undocumented immigrants. Based on his fieldwork in South America and Israel, Barak Kalir follows these workers from their decision to migrate to their experiences finding work, establishing social clubs and evangelical Christian churches, and putting down roots in Israeli society. While the State of Israel rejected the presence of non-Jewish migrants, many citizens accepted them. Latinos grew to favor cultural assimilation to Israeli society. In 2005, after a large-scale deportation campaign that drew criticism from many quarters, Israel made the historic decision to legalize the status of some undocumented migrant families on the basis of their cultural assimilation and identification with the State. By doing so, the author maintains, Israel recognized the importance of practical belonging for understanding citizenship and national identity.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. xi-sii

More than anyone else who has helped me along the way in writing this book, I would like to thank all of my informants for letting me into their lives. This was, for them, not just a matter of finding the time. Sharing their experiences and insights meant taking real risks—for themselves and, in many cases, for their families. I deeply appreciate the trust they had in me, as well as their hospitality and friendship. From the...

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Introduction: Undocumented Belonging

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pp. 1-23

In 2004, after a decade in Israel, Daniel was arrested when the Immigration Police raided the aluminum workshop in which he had worked for more than seven years. Eldad, the Israeli owner of the small workshop in south Tel Aviv, pleaded with the police officers to release Daniel, telling them what a loyal and well-behaved worker Daniel was. As the determined police officers handcuffed Daniel and pushed him into..


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Unsettling Setting: A Jewish State Dependent on Non-Jewish Labor

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pp. 27-56

There are two apparent paradoxes regarding immigration to Israel in the 1990s. The first is that while receiving approximately one million Jewish immigrants in the period between 1990 and 2000, Israel still found it necessary to import, since 1993, around one hundred thousand non-Jewish guest workers. The second paradox is that Israel also received in the 1990s around one hundred thousand undocumented...

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Destiny and Destination: Latinos Deciding to Leave for Israel

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pp. 57-86

Undocumented migrants from Latin America face impediments beyond Israel’s categorical rejection of non-Jewish migrants, notoriously tense military situation, and threat of acts of terror. Israel has no historic connections (economic or cultural) with Latin American countries of the kind that might stimulate large-scale migration, and the geographic distance between them is great. Embarking on such a transatlantic trip...


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Shifting Strategies: From the Accumulation of Money toward the Accumulation of Belonging

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pp. 89-125

All three types of Latino migrants in Israel originally conceived of their immigration as a springboard to a better future in their countries of origin. They sought to accumulate a certain economic wealth that would allow them to reposition themselves and their families back home. In order to achieve their goal as quickly as possible, Latinos initially lived frugally and saved as much as they could. Driven by a clear...

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Divisive Dynamics: The Absence of Political Community and the Differentiations of the Recreational Scene

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pp. 126-155

After a period of several years, many undocumented migrants in Israel accommodated themselves economically, socially, and culturally to life in Israel. As the stakes were high for these undocumented but settled migrants, many of them became preoccupied with their future prospects, and particularly with the possibility of preventing their deportation and legalizing their status. One would therefore have expected...

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The Religious Forms of Undocumented Lives: Latino Evangelical Churches

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pp. 156-200

Latinos in Israel were Christians to varying degrees of conviction; while some were deeply religious, others were secular and merely considered Christianity to be part of their cultural upbringing. Nevertheless, once in Israel, non-Jewish undocumented migrants were forcefully made aware of their religious identity, as it was precisely this component of their makeup as migrants that confined them to their undocumented..


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Israeli Resolution, Latino Disillusion: From Massive Deportation to Symbolic Legalization

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pp. 203-227

Around midnight on a particularly cold night in January 2003, I returned together with couple of my Latino friends from a party, when all of a sudden we saw how two men in civilian clothes fell upon a pedestrian who appeared to be African, pushed his body and face against the wall and bent his arms behind his back. While I was baΔed by what we witnessed, my Latino friends immediately recognized the aggressors to be...

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Conclusion: A New Assimilation?

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pp. 228-236

Thousands of Latinos who settled down in Israel in the mid-1990s can be said to have become Israelis. This is the case because Latinos championed the accumulation of practical national belonging as their primary life strategy in Israel. They strove for the kind of cultural assimilation that facilitated their de facto integration into Israeli society. A de facto integration into Israeli society meant better employment...


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pp. 237-241


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pp. 243-255


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pp. 257-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780253004710
E-ISBN-10: 0253004713
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355072

Page Count: 278
Illustrations: 6 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 670411632
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Latino Migrants in the Jewish State

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Immigrants -- Israel.
  • Migrant workers -- Israel.
  • Latin Americans -- Israel -- Ethnic identity.
  • Latin Americans -- Israel -- Government relations.
  • Latin Americans -- Cultural assimiation -- Israel.
  • Deportation -- Israel -- Government policy.
  • Assimilation (Sociology) -- Israel.
  • Israel -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Israel -- Ethnic relations.
  • Israel -- Politics and government.
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