Zainichi: Japan’s Solution to the Israeli Conflict

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a tea ceremony in Japan (Image credit: Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office of Israel)

In order to influence the future of the state and participate in its polity, one must take on the state’s national identity as one’s own.

From its inception, the modern state of Israel has been in conflict with millions of Arab residents entrenched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Existing paradigms have woefully failed at preventing them from posing a political and physical threat to the Jewish state’s existence.

Israel is not alone in this perplexing quandary of hosting residents with foreign identities and potentially belligerent attitudes towards their nation of residence. Europe is currently dealing with the terror and clash of civilizations that has accompanied the influx of millions of Middle Eastern migrants since the “Arab Spring.” America under President Donald Trump is eyeing its own immigration laws, questioning the practice of letting those from terror-rife states enter and gain influence, while considering limiting immigration to those best suited to integrating into the United States.

But in looking for models of how to confront this modern reality, exacerbated since the floodgates were opened in the West in large part thanks to the policies of “borderless” globalists, one country that has for decades hosted residents holding a foreign national identity with an historical grudge to the state has largely been overlooked.

That country – which enjoys almost unparalleled public security, order, and the third largest economy in the world – is Japan. There, a status known as zainichi (literally “residing in Japan”) exists, which may well provide a solution for national management of outsider populations, and a precedent for international policy that could be used to extricate Israel and the rest of the world from their conundrums.

What is Zainichi?

“The conditions necessary for being a Japanese national (i.e., kokumin, “citizen”) shall be determined by law…The people (i.e., kokumin, “citizens”) have the inalienable right to choose their public officials and to dismiss them.”

1947 Japanese Constitution, Articles 10, 15

A unique situation was created in the Land of the Rising Sun in the aftermath of World War II. Before the war, Japan had occupied Korea (annexed in 1910) and Taiwan (in 1895), turning the locals into Japanese subjects. A considerable number of Koreans and Taiwanese migrated to Japan seeking better opportunities or were forcibly brought over for manpower during World War II.

According to the post-war 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty the Japanese Empire abandoned all claims to the two countries, and as a result the Koreans and Taiwanese who remained in Japan lost Japanese nationality, thereby becoming stateless.

They had the option to naturalize and take on Japanese nationality (while renouncing foreign nationality, as Japan does not allow dual citizenship), to apply for citizenship back in Taiwan or South or North Korea, or to remain in a limbo status as zainichi – foreign stateless individuals residing permanently in Japan.

Illustration: Girl in a kimono (Image credit: Wix)

Today roughly half a million zainichi Koreans and 50,000 zainichi Taiwanese are the descendants of those who stayed and opted neither to go back to their home nation nor to take on Japanese nationality and identity.

As “special permanent residents,” zainichi enjoy certain benefits over other non-Japanese, particularly in terms of entry and exit from the island nation. But having abstained from taking on Japanese nationality, which many of them view as constituting assimilation and a betrayal of their identity, zainichi do not enjoy any of the benefits of Japanese citizenship, meaning they are unable to vote or run in Japanese elections.

In most prefectures, they are unable to work as civil servants without first taking on Japanese nationality. Additionally, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that zainichi non-citizens could not become managerial level public employees in any prefecture.

Dissimilar From Israel – Or Not?

“We support Chairman Kim Jong-Un with do-or-die resolution, and will defend the motherland to the end.”

General Association of Korean Residents in Japan Central Standing Committee,

July 22, 2017

“With our spirit and with our blood, we will redeem you, O Palestine.”

Israeli Arab Balad Knesset Party Summer Camp 2017

While the majority of the zainichi population is amicable toward Japan, a large segment of zainichi openly supports the mortal enemies of the land they were born and raised in, immediately bringing the Israeli conflict to mind.

A full 25% of zainichi Koreans – roughly 125,000 people – are members of Chongryon (short for General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), an association identifying with the North Korean despotic enemy regime that launches missiles over Japan while threatening it with nuclear annihilation. Chongryon runs schools and businesses, is heavily pro-Pyongyang supporting its threats against Japan, and opposes integration into Japanese society.

Chongryon’s leaders are also actively involved in the politics and activities of North Korea. Bae Jin Gu, a vice chairman of Chongryon, is reportedly the chief operative of North Korea’s spy agency in Japan. As Japan’s Sentaku magazine reports: “An important mission of this espionage organization is to create underground organizations in both Japan and South Korea to lead armed uprisings to support Pyongyang’s scheme of unifying the Korean Peninsula by force.”

Likewise, a string of abductions of Japanese committed by North Korean operatives in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s continues to be a source of tension, and further highlights Japan’s mistrust of the loyalties of the zainichi North Koreans.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu with Japanese Emperor Akihito (Image credit: Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office of Israel)

The Mindan organization - the larger South Korean counterpart of Chongryon - has been less controversial, but it too has promoted a strict anti-assimilationist outlook, demanding that zainichi Koreans vigorously maintain their Korean identity and connection to the Korean peninsula rather than naturalize.

These positions regarding the state raise certain parallels between the zainichi in Japan and the Arabs in Israel. This similarity extends to the national consciousness that informs their identity. Like the Arabs, the zainichi are members of a people that warred with the nation they now live in, lost to it, and were conquered by it. The fact that the “Palestinians” are members of a newly invented peoplehood does not change their shared ethos of being a conquered people.

In another similarity, the majority of "Palestinians" apparently came to pre-state Israel 100 to 150 years ago from neighboring countries in order to work in factories that were newly established by Jewish pioneers. Similarly, many of the immigrant Koreans and Taiwanese of Japan came to the flourishing empire 100 years ago or more seeking opportunity.

Sakoku – The Antithesis of the West’s Borderless “Utopia”

“The burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.”

Barack Hussein Obama, then-US Senator and later US President, 2008

“Japanese ships are strictly forbidden to leave for foreign countries. No Japanese is permitted to go abroad. If there is anyone who attempts to do so secretly, he must be executed… If any Japanese returns from overseas after residing there, he must be put to death.”

Sakoku Edict of 1635

To a large extent, the proclivity to limit foreign influence seen in the zainichi policy can be said to be culturally based in the Japanese psyche as it developed through the nation’s history, which traced a rather different arc than many Western nations that tended to colonize, import, and “civilize” (i.e., assimilate) foreigners.

From the mid-1600s to mid-1800s, the Tokugawa Shogunate implemented its sakoku “chained country” policy of national isolation, in large part as a response to a Christian-led rebellion. The country was closed to all foreigners except for some trade relations with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants who were limited to a handful of port cities in Japan, and Christianity was outlawed. Japanese were banned from leaving the island nation.

In many ways, this cautious outlook still seems to inform Japan’s firm stance on those with foreign loyalties living within its borders. Japan’s zainichi policy may strike many in the West as hardline, but it stems from a fundamental principle: In order to influence the future of the state and participate in its polity, one must take on the state’s national identity as one’s own.

Tokyo (Image credit: Wix)

In practice, this stance has protected Japanese identity and prevented any possible hijacking of the country’s political system by potentially hostile elements loyal to foreign states, many of which – including Korea and China – still harbor a great deal of animus towards Japan over its conquest and brutal actions during World War II.

Anti-“globalist” as it may be, one cannot argue with the results of the zainichi policy: The country has generally succeeded in accommodating sizable populations of foreign residents with an historical reason to be bitter against the state. It has done so while not allowing foreign entities to influence its national affairs, nor allowing terrorism and other such subversive action against the state to take root. Japan is among the world leaders in public security, with the only notable local terror activity having been perpetrated not by groups of zainichi, but rather by the communist Japanese Red Army or cults such as Aum Shinrikyo. (Ironically, pacifist Japan sentenced 13 leaders of the cult to death, even while Israel continues to refuse to implement its death penalty against terrorists).

Indeed, the majority of the zainichi in Japan are a far cry from the Arab citizens and residents of Israel, who not only make up a dramatically more sizable portion of the total population, but who support a foreign national claim to the land they live in. By contrast, most of the zainichi integrate into Japanese society. Almost none of them hold aspirations of conquering the island nation and making it part of Korea or Taiwan, and they do not oppose the presence of the Japanese in their own country.

In fact, most feel at least partially Japanese in their identity, even while maintaining their Korean or Taiwanese heritage. Zainichi are increasingly naturalizing, and the vast majority marry Japanese citizens, meaning more and more do not pass on their status (although many are still wrongfully termed zainichi even after taking on Japanese citizenship).

Research has indicated that the dwindling zainichi community largely identifies as neither Japanese nor Korean, but rather simply as zainichi. It also shows zainichi are increasingly taking on Japanese nationality, which would seem to prove the system of national management is working as stateless residents gradually leave over time, or else properly integrate.

In my time studying in Japan, I personally became friends with several zainichi Koreans and zainichi descendants, and found them to be very integrated into life in Japan. They seemed to feel very much a part of the country, even though most of them learned Korean, visited South Korea, often used their Korean names as well as their Japanese names, and in one case had parents who ran a Korean barbecue restaurant. But by and large, they were very much “Japanese.”

Citizen Cain

“There has always been an Israeli strategy to differentiate between 'the good Arab' and other Palestinians. ...The 'good Arab' is half-Arab and half-Israeli; he doesn't challenge Zionism and accepts Israel's definition of who is a 'terrorist' and who is a 'freedom fighter.'...If boycotting [Knesset elections] is accompanied by an organized campaign of civil disobedience or another clear model of struggle, then I would consider it a tool to empower Palestinians and our struggle.”

Israeli Arab Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi, Feb. 11, 2015

The parallels between zainichi in Japan and Arabs in Israel – or Moroccans in Belgium, for that matter – are certainly not exact, and yet there are enough similarities that Japan’s policy model for dealing with the situation may prove enlightening for the Jewish state as it seeks solutions to its conflict.

The zainichi paradigm has overseen a controlled integration of foreigners and maintained the political rule of Japanese citizens in their own country. The paradigm also provides precedent for Israel to make the case on the world stage for taking a different national policy approach than the one that has remained firmly lodged in place for many long and bloody decades.

In some ways parallel to the concept of zainichi, Israel already uses a model of permanent residency in its capital. Nearly all of the roughly 230,000 Arab residents of “east Jerusalem” are stateless and have permanent residency status, even though they are living in areas under full Israel sovereignty as enshrined in the 1980 Jerusalem Law.

However, an important caveat distinguishes the Arab residents of Jerusalem from the zainichi. In Japan, zainichi is a status for the descendants of a particular national group regardless of where they live in the country. Under this system, nationality – and not geographical location – acts as the determining factor of potential disloyalty and self-isolation from the national destiny of the state.

A similar statement can be made about the “Palestinians.” The reason Arab citizens attack Jewish citizens is the same reason that “Palestinian” non-citizens living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza attack – namely, because they ascribe to a “Palestinian” nationalism that contradicts the concept of Israeli nationalism and seeks to replace it on the same land. This foreign national identity poses an eternal existential threat to the Jewish state, which must eventually face up to reality and address the question of how does one deal with a massive population with a hostile foreign identity diametrically opposed to that of the state.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (Image credit: Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office of Israel)

If Israel were to apply a similar paradigm to Japan’s in facing its own local population with foreign leanings, this would necessitate recognizing that the Arab citizenry of Israel likewise hold foreign loyalties. Since its establishment following World War II, Israel has been facing a large hostile Arab population in its homeland. This population - both the “Palestinians” and the Arab citizens of Israel who nearly unanimously self-identify as “Palestinians” - is not living in a sovereign state of its own, and possesses a foreign (and fabricated) “Palestinian” national identity that, by its very definition, involves an antipathy to the self-defined Jewish state in the land of Israel - a parcel of land that the “Palestinian” national narrative claims as its own.

Those holding Israeli citizenship within the country’s sovereign territories frequently engage in terrorist and political activity meant to undermine its future as a Jewish state, as I have expounded in a previous article. This foreign loyalty is annually demonstrated on Nakba Day – celebrating the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment – when many thousands of Arab citizens go out nationwide to protest the existence of what is ostensibly their own state. Meanwhile those in Gaza put Hamas in power in order to wipe out Israel, and those in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), aside from being belligerent, hold Jordanian citizenship for the most part (the rest being stateless, holding no internationally recognized citizenship).

Currently, “Palestinians” fall into several political statuses vis-a-vis Israel, including citizens, permanent residents (e.g., by virtue of marriage to an Israeli citizen), temporary residents (allowing residence, social benefits, and work), visitor visa holders (with permission to work), and day visitors. The situation regarding travel documents is similarly confusing with Arabs holding Israeli passports, Israeli laissez-passer, temporary Jordanian passports, and Palestinian Authority passports.

Zainichi in Israel

"I'm looking at two states and one state, I like the one that both parties like."

US President Donald Trump, Feb. 15, 2017

To resolve the superfluous complexities of the status of the Arabs in Israel, the zainichi premise offers three approaches. First, Arabs can be allowed to pursue their national ambitions elsewhere - perhaps in Jordan. This would open the path to doing away with UNRWA’s discriminatory treatment of “Palestinian” refugees, reforming it to comply with international standards that dictate integrating refugees into their host nation, as is done with all other refugees in the world by UNHCR.

Because it is illogical that Israel would grant a right of citizenship to those who deny its right to exist as the Jewish state, those Arabs who subscribe to this denial could be incentivized to leave and harshly penalized for staying. After a period of time, they could be deported to the country from which their family came to Israel, if it is easily traced, or else to another third country of their choosing or Israel’s choosing - again Jordan comes to mind given its proximity and “Palestinian” majority.

Secondly, those Arabs and non-Arabs alike - since this concept is not racist in nature and is meant to apply to all non-Jews equally - who are willing to take on statelessness and live in the Jewish state as their host nation would be given a similar zainichi-like residency status. This status would entail all of the accompanying benefits including the entire bevy of individual - but not national - rights.

Finally, those wishing to renounce any claims of foreign nationality and take on the nationality of Israel should be allowed to do so. It stands to reason that nationality in the Jewish state, as it was defined at its establishment, should mean becoming part of the Jewish religio-nation, since the religious and national identities of the Jewish people are one (case in point, a Jew who converts out leaves the Jewish people). Persons seeking this status can do so through conversion, in much the same way becoming a Japanese national implies taking on Japanese national identity. This is in keeping with the premise of Israel’s current laws, under which non-Jews seeking to naturalize must “have renounced their prior nationality,” and those seeking to immigrate under the Right of Return must be able to prove Jewish identity.

Turning Japanese

“Every citizen has duties alongside his or her rights, which they must fulfill. One significant and meaningful duty is loyalty to the state, which includes the duty not to carry out terrorist activities that harm its safety and that of its residents.”

Judge Avraham Elyakim, Haifa District Court, Aug. 6, 2017

“A commission formed by the [Egyptian] Cabinet...has revoked the citizenship of 800 people, including Palestinians.”

Al-Masry Al-Youm, October 2014

But hold on, you say. How can you remove citizenship from those who currently have it?

The fact is that it is within the power of the government to enact a reform and reassess internal security threats posed by hostile populations with foreign allegiance. Stripping citizenship has precedent – just this August, Israeli courts stripped citizenship from an Arab terrorist, the first case of citizenship being revoked for terror charges. Also in August, the government expressed interest in revoking citizenship from former Israeli Arab Knesset member Azmi Bishara, who fled the country to Qatar following treason charges after he helped guide Hezbollah missiles towards Israeli towns in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

While these are welcome steps, they hardly go far enough because terrorist activity is merely a symptom of a hostile national identity and not a cause.

Japanese garden (Image credit: Wix)

Israel would not only be modeling itself on Japan if it were to turn its Arab citizens into stateless Arab residents. It would also be copying Egypt, which has suffered no international censure and outrage over withdrawing citizenship from thousands of Gazan Arabs who were left without recognized citizenship. Jordan too has stripped citizenship from thousands in Judea and Samaria. In fact, in 1988, King Hussein took Jordanian citizenship away from more than 1.5 million Arab residents of the “West Bank.”

And it is common knowledge that throughout the Arab world “Palestinians” are subject to second-class citizenship, largely due to a 1955 Arab League decision banning Arab states from granting citizenship to “Palestinians” in order to keep them refugees. It goes without saying that Arab states also expelled and revoked citizenship for roughly 800,000 Jews in the years following the establishment of Israel; for example, Article 18 of the Egyptian Nationality Law amended in 1956 states: “Egyptian nationality may be declared forfeit by order of the Ministry of the Interior in the case of persons classified as Zionists.”

So why should Israel be held to a higher standard of granting political status to a population bent on its destruction than Arab states do towards a fellow Arab population, or Japan does towards a Korean and Taiwanese population?

It follows that such Arabs, if they are unwilling to renounce allegiance to a hostile foreign “Palestinian” nationality seeking to replace their host state, could not be given a zainichi-like stateless residency status, for their continued presence demonstrably threatens the future of the state.

A Pew poll from March 2016 indicates that Israelis may be positively predisposed towards this idea. It found that 48% of Jews in Israel think that Arabs (citizens and non-citizens alike) should be transferred out of the country, and a full 79% thought that Jews should receive preferential treatment from the Israeli government. This would seem to follow the zainichi rationale of putting those possessing the nationality of the country and loyalty to it before those with a foreign national identity.

Some critics of the Japanese model have raised questions regarding the suitability of the zainichi paradigm, given that many zainichi have lived in the country for three or more generations and to a large extent self-identify as Japanese. But in Israel’s circumstances it would appear quite appropriate, when one considers that the majority of the foreign population openly calls to replace the national identity of the country and poses a constant political and security threat.

You Say Zainichi, I Say Ger Toshav

“What happened in the rabbinical court this week constitutes the start of a change for good and a renewal of the people of Israel taking care of humanity. I aspire to anchor the status of Noahides in law.”

Brit Olam Noahide World Center Director Rabbi Uri Sherki, on a rabbinical court headed by Chief Rabbi David Lau granting ger toshav status to George Streichman, September 2014

At its core, zainichi status indicates permanent residency without political influence but with the option to naturalize and take on local nationality.

The concept of zainichi is in fact not foreign to Judaism, where a surprisingly similar concept of ger toshav (resident stranger) was introduced in the Torah over 3,000 years ago. Simply put, a ger toshav is a non-Jew living in Israel who accepts the truth of the Torah of Israel and G-d of Israel, and has taken upon himself the fulfillment of the seven Noahide laws. This status was recently resurrected in 2014, when the first ger toshav in roughly 2,500 years was recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. And for those wishing to go from a ger toshav to a ger tzedek (Jewish convert), Judaism offers the path of conversion. It stands to reason that bestowal of a zainichi-equivalent status in Israel would involve the conditions of recognition as a ger toshav.

But the Jewish approach can be said to be more tolerant and open than the Japanese one in several ways. Zainichi are often the subject of discrimination, a topic that was explored the 2001 film “Go,” whereas Jews are commanded by the Torah to respect the ger toshav. Likewise, descendants of zainichi who took on Japanese nationality and citizenship are often still termed zainichi and marginalized in Japanese society.

In contrast, a ger tzedek who converts and takes on Jewish nationality is considered as a native-born Jew, and Jewish law forbids treating him differently. For those wishing to align their lives with the Jewish people by taking on citizenship in the nation state of the Jews, conversion would guarantee them full rights.

Makuya pilgrimage to Israel (Image credit: Milner Moshe/Government Press Office of Israel)

It stands to reason that Israel should follow Japan’s lead and allow those who recognize and accept the Jewish national identity of the state to live as stateless foreign nationals permanently residing in the country; let those intent on becoming citizens of the Jewish state properly convert and become part of the Jewish nation; and firmly show the door to those who do not accept the Jewish state and hold loyalties to foreign entities. An extra benefit to implementing a zainichi-based paradigm that treats Arab residents of all regions equally is that the path would be clear for Israel to annex Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and end the foreign Palestinian Authority rule over its historical land.

This would result thanks to Israel possessing the political tools needed to deal with the status of millions of residents with foreign nationality. If it works for Japan, then it should work for Israel. Further, if Israel were to implement the zainichi concept and through it achieve internal stability, it would then be in a position of strength to dedicate its energy to dealing with the external threats posed to its existence – an area in which it may have some tips in return for Japan.

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...הָרִימִי בַכֹּחַ קוֹלֵךְ מְבַשֶּׂרֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם הָרִימִי אַל תִּירָאִי אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה הִנֵּה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם! (ישעיה  מ:ט)

...Raise your voice with strength, herald of Jerusalem; raise it, do not be afraid; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your G-d!"

(Isaiah 40:9)

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