On June 19, 2012, you wrote in your Times of Israel blog addressing the situation of the African asylum seekers, “I believe that as Jews we absolutely must accept human beings who flee to our midst to seek refuge. That is the price that we must pay for establishing such a wonderful, democratic state based on Jewish values.”
When I read those words, I was inspired. Speaking as both a Rabbi and a member of Yesh Atid’s list, I felt as though you were expressing ideas that encompassed my own values as a Jew and an Israeli citizen. When you became an MK within Israel’s Knesset, I had hoped that you would carry the torch representing those Jewish values of freedom, equality, compassion, and the fight against discrimination, and stand against policies that contradict our core values.
However, I’m writing this article, because I’ve lost that hope.
Instead, I want to ask if you still believe in those values?
On September 16, 2013 the Supreme Court struck down the first amendment to the “Prevention of Infiltration Law” as it was found to be unconstitutional and in violation of basic human rights. However, instead of finding a humane alternative to the law, the Knesset put forth a new amendment, similar to the last. On December 10, 2013 this new amendment was passed by your coalition. This amendment does not distinguish between asylum seekers and other migrants, and instead brands anyone who enters Israel as “Infiltrators.” These people may be kept in jail for up to a year and for an indefinite amount of time in Israel’s new detention facility, Holot, without judicial process and representation. Holot, which is run by the police, expects those detained to attend roll call three times a day, providing no hope for work, or human dignity. Furthermore, it frees the government from it’s obligation to assess their claims and distinguish which asylum seekers have a legitimate refugee claim and which do not.
I remember when that law was passed. Protests and a national strike by the asylum seekers erupted in the streets of Tel Aviv and across from the Knesset in Jerusalem. They were demanding that their cases as asylum seekers be assessed. They wanted Israel to stand by it’s commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and begin the process of Refugee Status Determination, (RSD) in order to determine who is a refugee according to the UN Convention that Israel signed and ratified.
I remember what I did those days. I stood side by side with the African asylum seekers. I was defending my core Jewish and Israeli values. Just like you wrote in your blog, “The Bible specifically instructs us to embrace strangers and foreigners ‘because we were strangers in a foreign land.’ As people who know what being a refugee means, we need to provide safe haven for others in need regardless of the legal classifications of their home countries.” As both a state and a nation, Jews understand what it means to be a refugee.
But, what did you do?
On December 10th, you, and your party Yesh Atid, had the opportunity to stand up for those ideals. You had a chance to stand up against the prejudice, discrimination and distortions Prime Minister Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar have been promoting to the Israeli public against the Asylum Seekers.
But you, nor your party spoke up.
In fact, Yesh Atid, provided 8 MK’s to vote, all voting to allow the amendment to pass. Regardless of your whereabouts during the vote itself, as someone who spoke out in a blog against the current treatment, was it wrong for me, and so many of your supporters, to be surprised by your inaction?
I voted for Yesh Atid, because I, like so many Israelis, saw the potential for a new future, a better future. Again and again, you talk about protecting core Jewish values, whether it’s with regard to equality in national service, religious understanding and dialogue or building a transparent government that represents the Jewish people. And when it came to the African asylum seekers, I thought you would do the same. You wrote in your blog, “What is a greater threat to the Jewish state – infiltrators who seek asylum and refuge here or our failure to act with the most fundamental of Jewish values?” Your answer was to protect those fundamental Jewish values.
To me, and so many others, you were a champion of those principles. When approached about this issue over a month ago on your Facebook wall, you responded that Yesh Atid was working on a plan to help process the asylum seeker’s cases.
That was over a month ago, and since then, asylum seekers have begun to be deported to Holot: one by one, they ask for their visas to be renewed, and instead get “invitations” to jail. Since then, the government has been intensifying pressure on asylum seekers to choose between indefinite detention and “voluntary” deportation. Since then, no one within the coalition has stood up publicly against the law, or the negative dialogue from the government.
Don’t let silence become your stance.
As a citizen of Israel and a proud Jew, I will continue to fight for what I believe is right. I will continue to fight on the side of those Jewish values which I believe define our state, and I will continue to protect them, rather than silently watch them be trampled. This is my voice.
What will be yours, MK Lipman?