And a stranger you shall not wrong (Exodus 23:20)
ולא תונו את הגר (שמות כג:כ)
The commandment that, “A stranger you shall not wrong, neither shall you oppress him” represents just one of thirty-six times that the Torah commands the Israelites to treat minorities within the community equitably. Who is this “stranger” that we must treat fairly? While Rashi (on verse 20) writes that this refers a Jew “who was not born in the country but came from another country to live there,” Ibn Ezra (also on verse 20) explains that this refers to a “Ger Toshav”—a non-Jew who has settled permanently among the Jewish people. Commenting on the verse, “One law shall be to him that is home-born and to the stranger that lives among you,” (Exodus 12:49) Professor Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute writes that these verses relate a critical message to the Israelite nation that had just endured centuries of oppression as strangers and outsiders in Egypt. Noting that many Egyptians joined the Israelites during the Exodus, he explains, “This verse teaches us a great lesson: Despite the fact that the only example that the [new] nation has experienced with regard to citizen-stranger relations is one of exploitation and subjugation that targeted them in Egypt, the Children of Israel were expected to act in a different manner. It was incumbent upon them to afford equal treatment to the very people who had enslaved them. In that time period—and even today—this is a sensational, far-reaching commandment. The formation of one identity cannot come at the expense of those who carry a different identity. On both the non-Jewish stranger and the Israelite follows the same law.”
Today, Israel works hard to fulfill this requirement to address the needs of its minority populations including the Arab, Christian and Druze communities. While every Israeli citizen enjoys full democratic rights, Israel recognizes that each population faces unique challenges that require additional attention and assistance. According to the Times of Israel, in a video released last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed this issue and touted his government’s “tireless” efforts to boost Israel’s Arab minority and integrate the community into mainstream society and the economy. In the video, Netanyahu lists a number of important achievements in the Israeli-Arab sector, “Over the past decade, the number of Arabs working in high-tech in Israel increased tenfold; Arab students studying at the Technion, Israel’s MIT, tripled; Arab judges nearly doubled; an Arab Supreme Court Justice served as chairman of the Central Election Committee overseeing our national elections; Arab participation in the workforce has grown significantly; Arab unemployment is down; and for the first time ever, an Arab has been appointed a deputy commissioner of the police, the second-highest rank attainable.” Of course, things are not perfect and these efforts must continue. At the same time, we can take great pride in the fact that the Jewish state works to uphold the obligation not only of equal treatment, but also of equal opportunity for all of its citizens, no matter their ethnicity, origin or religious faith.