African refugees – Time for a real policy

I just returned from Rabin Square. This evening, 20,000 African refugees marched down Ibn Gvirol to rally at the square. They were demanding what they call “their freedom” and expressing their deep-seated anger at the new law allowing the government to place them in detention facilities for up to a year.

For a moment, let’s leave aside all the normal arguments (i.e. how can we as Jews do this to other people– who at least now are our refugees– as well as the fact that most legal observers believe once the new law is challenged in front of the Supreme Court, the court will no doubt find this law unconstitutional.) Tonight’s rally highlights an even deeper problem in Israel. Our inability to make coherent decisions, coupled with our inability to take action.

Demonstration Rabin Square December 28, 2013
Demonstration Rabin Square December 28, 2013

On a different subject all together, tonight on Meet the Press I heard a dialogue between MK Amnon Mitzna, and MK Orit Strook. Orit Strook tried to criticize Israel’s past peace agreements. Mitzna asked her repeatedly to disclose her plan for our future. When the moderator pushed Strook as well, her response was simply “doing nothing is better than making mistakes.” That articulates what our policy seems to be regarding the Africans – Let’s not really do anything.

The government’s fence building efforts in Sinai have been very successful in keeping the Africans out of the country. No doubt the changing situation in Egypt has also contributed to the change. In the meantime, there are more than 50,000 African refugees in this country. It is clear that these people are refugees by all standards of international law. However, sadly we refuse to treat them as such. It seems unfathomable that after 2,000 years without a state … 2,000 years of wondering … 2,000 years of persecution, we, the Jewish people cannot come up with a sensible and humane way to integrate 50,000 Africans refugees into our society.

Demonstration  by African Immigrants at Rabin Square
Demonstration by African Immigrants at Rabin Square

Instead, our government has chosen to pass new laws to imprison them. True, these are not concentration camps, nor are they even as bad as the detention camps that the British established for the Jews they intercepted on the way to Palestine. Still, can’t we find a better solution? Why have we not found a way to indeed be “a light until the nations”? What has Zionism become? It is time to reclaim who we are as people. It is time to reclaim our humanity. It is time to act toward others as we would hope they would act toward us.

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary. He is the publisher of an economic news App about Israel called DigitOne and has a weekly newsletter on substack called Israel Update
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