A question of hygiene or nationality?
Exclusion and non-Jewish labour migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, 2006–2017
in Medicalising borders
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In this chapter, we probe the relationship between discourses of hygiene norms, polity inclusion and nationality in Israel. For the first time in Israel’s short history, it is experiencing non-Jewish immigration – labour migrants, refugees and asylum seekers which has provoked heated debate over the inclusion of non-Jewish migrants in the Israeli polity. One mode of social exclusion is the use of hygiene and cleanliness discourses. Claims of difference and inferiority based on hygiene practices and tropes of cleanliness to exclude, subjugate or disenfranchise outgroups have appeared throughout history around the world; Israel is no different. In concentrating on contemporary Israel, we analyse how hygiene and cleanliness discourses have been used since the founding of the state to reify the social hierarchy among Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews, Arabs and others. The prevalence of these discourses primed the public to the idea of hygiene and cleanliness as rationales for exclusion from the polity and for the state only offering negligible institutional and social accommodation for labour migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Further, expansion of these discourses connected hygiene and cleanliness practices with criminalization, infection and social deviance, vilifying labour migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and sealing their destinies to be outside of Israeli society and the Israeli national story. We show that hygiene and cleanliness discourses are not necessarily about health norms; they may also be about social hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, accommodation and assimilation.

Medicalising borders

Selection, containment and quarantine since 1800

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