By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In recent years Israel struggled with what to do with tens of thousands of African migrants and asylum seekers who had made their way to Israel over the last two decades. Some come from countries that they cannot be returned to. Over the years some left by various ways, including to Canada. But the debate in Israel has always been full of bitter questions and campaigns against the state’s policy. In February 2018 Israel began issuing deportation notices with plans ostensibly to fly around 40,000 people countries in Africa or imprison some of those who refuse to leave. A growing chorus opposes the state policy which has led politicians to lash out at various actors they think are behind the opposition, including accusations against George Soros according to The Jerusalem Post, and others accusing the New Israel Fund. Here is a list of many of those who have signed up to oppose the policy.
25 legal experts
25 legal experts signed a letter against Israel’s policy in February of seeking to deport African migrants and asylum-seekers: “The State of Israel must abstain from putting the protocol into practice and place its immigration policy within the confines of international law,” the letter said. According to Ynet “The letter was undersigned by 25 prominent international law experts, including Prof. David Kretzmer, Prof. Orna Ben-Naftali, Prof. Eyal Benvenisti, Prof. Yuval Shany, Prof. Tomer Broude, Prof. Frances Raday, Prof. Moshe Hirsch, Prof. Muhammed Wattad, Prof. Yaël Ronen, Prof. Guy Harpaz, Prof. Iris Canor, Dr. Natalie Davidson and Prof. Aeyal Gross.”
According to Haaretz “Over 1,000 doctors signed another letter to Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Prof. Shlomo, head of the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority,, urging him to halt the expulsion of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. “Our silence is like consent to one of the harshest blows humanity has ever known,” read part of the letter. It called on the government to find a moral and humane solution that would allow asylum seekers to assert their right to health and a dignified life. Karney Lahad wrote in The Jerusalem Post explaining her choice.
Prominent Israeli authors
““In light of the huge wave of refugees inundating the West and Africa, the number of asylum-seekers in Israel is less than half of one percent of its population, and its gates have been locked to them since 2012…Israel has no refugee problem and has no economic difficulty taking them in, settling them and directing them to jobs in caregiving, agriculture and construction which are crying out for workers,” said a letter signed by Israeli authors. According to Haaretz “Among the signatories to the letter also sent to Knesset members are the authors David Grossman, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Meir Shalev, Etgar Keret, Zeruya Shalev, Orly Castel Bloom and Noa Yadlin as well as playwrights Edna Mazya and Joshua Sobol.”
More than 800 US rabbis
“As a country founded by refugees, and whose early leaders helped to craft the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel must not deport those seeking asylum within its borders,” reads the letter, which was written by Jewish groups. According to Russia Today they include New Israel Fund, HIAS, T’ruah, and Right Now.
35 former diplomats
“As official representatives of Israel, we could always note proudly, even in times of extreme criticism at home and abroad, that ‘The State of Israel is based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel’ as is written in the proclamation of independence,” 35 former diplomats wrote according to Times of Israel “By carrying out these deportations we are pulling out the ground from under these claims, and from under the image of Israel as a state of law and ethics.”
Human Rights Organizations in Israel
In January in a joint letter, including Amnesty International Israel, ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees, ACRI – The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Kav LaOved, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and the African Refugee Development Center – condemned the decision to deport. Dror Sadot, spokeswoman for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said “We know from numerous testimonies that the refugees who are sent to Rwanda are tortured and not given any security, status or work permits, so they must continue with their asylum journey…With a refugee crisis all over the world, Israel, which has enough resources to absorb 35,000 refugees, has a moral obligation to grant refugee status. Jewish people know best what it is like to be a refugee, and it is the obligation of a Jewish state to accept people who are asking for asylum…The government has crossed a redline, and we see a lot of panic in the community – particularly at our Crisis Intervention Center [in Tel Aviv], where there are now lines outside our offices. There is a complete lack of transparency, and it is terrifying these people,” she said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Rwanda and Uganda
Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem on Thursday told AFP that it had “no such agreement with the government of Israel to send refugees here.” In addition Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied on Friday that his country has signed a deal to accept asylum seekers, according to The Jerusalem Post.
“This Holocaust survivor remembers what it means to be a Jew, and remembers what it means to be an asylum-seeker,” Veronica Cohen told Ynet: “We are facing the greatest of crimes [by] deporting them to a place where they are likely to die. “I ask myself, I ask my people, I ask my brothers and sisters: Tell me, how is it possible for Jews to forget their past and join in this crime,” she added, according to an article by The Jerusalem Post.
Residents of South Tel Aviv
“We don’t have anything against [refugees], and we hope the government will solve the problem by spreading them around the country instead of deporting them to Rwanda,” Moti Katz, a resident said to The Jerusalem Post. “If you put 1,000 or 2,000 immigrants here and there, then there is no problem. But by putting 40,000 in one area, of course there is going to be a problem.”
470 University professors
“We, academic staff at universities and colleges in Israel, call upon the prime minister, the president and the members of Knesset to take a courageous moral stand on the issue of asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea,” the letter by 470 University professors in Israel states according to The Jerusalem Post. “We urge you to reverse the government’s decision to arrest and forcibly expel asylum-seekers who are in Israel.”
African asylum seekers
Asylum seekers have protested being deported. In interviews on TV and elsewhere they have said they do not want to leave. Some who were deported told the UN that they suffered abuse. “The statement went on to say that the men suffered ‘abuse, torture and extortion before risking their lives once again by crossing the Mediterranean to Italy’ after Israel had sent them away,” according to an article at Haaretz.
A group of El Al pilots said they would refuse to fly refugees on deportation flights. “I have joined my friends in this and I will not fly refugees to their death. I will not participate in this barbarism,” one wrote. “As a pilot and as a human being” there is “absolutely no way I can take part in transporting refugees to a place where their chances of survival are slim to none,” another wrote according to Times of Israel.
Physicians for Human Rights
According to Haaretz “Physicians for Human Rights in Israel demanded that the ministry revoke the medical license of Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.”
Orthodox Rabbi Donniel Hartman
“Where is the humanity, what’s the matter with us?” asked Hartman to The Jerusalem Post. “Where is the basic ‘derech eretz’ [decent behavior] that should define a Jewish community? This is who we’re supposed to be? The country that has the lowest level of granting refugee status? We should be embarrassed, it’s a mark of Cain and it’s a stain on the Jewishness of Israel. We’re one of the wealthiest countries in the world. There are 60 million refugees in the world, and we can’t handle 25,000?”
Rabbi Susan Silverman
“Who here would be willing to house [asylum-seekers]?” Susan Silverman asked in January. “Anne Frank is the most well-known hidden person, and she was hidden so she would not be sent to her death, and we have documentation that these people are facing possible death,” she said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Rabbis for Human Rights
“This policy poses a life-endangering threat to the asylum seekers and contradicts both the Jewish tradition and the tradition of the State of Israel,” writes the organization.
Joey Low, American businessman
According to Ynet, Low said “The sad thing I ask is why don’t Israelis care more. I always assumed that Jews, Israelis, were people who were concerned about others around us. Many, many of the Israelis who are here came from Europe. How did it feel when they were rejected from the place where they were? Part of what being a Jew means is to reach out and help those who are less fortunate than you are, and that’s what being a Jew means to me.”
Daniel Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post Reporter
He writes in a passionate piece “the government has chronically refused to review the vast majority of the over 12,000 asylum applications it agreed to appraise since 2013, while patently denying thousands of others the right to simply fill out a form to tell their story.”