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Tunnel Vision on Israel

Probably my least favorite of the Volokh Conspirators is Professor Bernstein. To give him his due, he's often surprisingly lucid any time except when he's speaking about Israel. At that point, he often spouts out the most outrageous junk without really giving it any thought or decent research. And I say this not as some pro-Hezbollah crank, but as someone who is generally very pro-Israeli.

Today, for instance, the Professor asks, "Does Japan Have the Right To Exist As A Japanese State?" In relevant part, he continues:

My correspondent was unaware of any other countries that have an overt ethnic identity, but, judging by immigration laws, there are quite a few, and with a few exceptions (Armenia and Germany), their discriminatory immigration policies exist, unlike Israel's, without any justification resulting from persecution of that group.

For example, according to Wikipedia: "Japanese citizenship is conferred jus sanguinis, and monolingual Japanese-speaking minorities often reside in Japan for generations under permanent residency status without acquiring citizenship in their country of birth." Why does Japan have the right to exist as a Japanese state? Has this question ever been asked?

Why, yes, Professor, it has been asked! The problem of ethnic Koreans living in Japan features prominently in just about any human rights discussion of the area, whether among students of Japan, expatriates living in Japan or just about anyone with a passing knowledge of Japanese history. Indeed, if Professor Bernstein had been a bit more persistent even in consulting Wikipedia, he'd have stumbled upon their own entry on the zainichi-chosenjin, which provides some pretty good background. And most of the commentary on the issue is not spectacularly favorable to Japan.

My direct personal knowledge of the issue is fairly limited, but enough to make Prof. Bernstein's question slide straight from silly to repulsive. During my first short stay in Japan (way back in my undergraduate days), my class was taken to visit a Korean village in Takatsuki, near Osaka. I still vividly remember the little hamlet, both because it seemed so different from the small part of the Kansai region with which I was then familiar, and because it was the first time I ever got a taste of kimchi. Most of the folks in the surrounding houses came out to talk to us, many telling stories of how difficult it was to deal with the government when one doesn't have any Japanese identity and yet has no other country to which one can turn.

I also remember what my host mother--an otherwise kind woman--said when I returned home from the trip. Roughly translated: "Goodness. Why would you want to visit those people?"

While the discrimination faced by ethnic Koreans in Japan is gradually declining, suffice it to say that most human rights organizations (as well as scholars of Japan) have not considered the treatment of the zaikoku to be a gold star on Japan's human rights record. If I were to guess at the external concensus, I'd have to think most scholars find the official refusal to recognize ethnic Koreans as full citizens in the latter part of the last century to be a disgrace. If Professor Bernstein is trying to legitimize Israel's actions by comparing them to Japanese policy with regards to foreigners, he's putting himself in uncomfortable company.


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Thanks, Tony - that was very interesting. I had no idea that was the way things worked in Japan.

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