An open letter to the African migrants

Dear African Migrants,

You have all individually chosen to migrate to Israel, and having made your way here in the thousands, have now decided to make a loud demand for your “rights”, here in our country. But do you know anything about Israel, my country? Do you know anything about the Jewish people, our history, our fears? You demand that we understand you, but have you made any effort to understand us?

Well, let me tell you a little bit about us. We, the Jewish people, have a long history of being refugees. In fact, we had a continuous on-off relationship with this status for close to 2,000 years. We have faced the harshest persecution possible, with no sign of reprieve. Thus, born amidst our people was a movement called Zionism designed to force our way back HOME and recreate a national homeland in our ancestral land of Israel.

The Jewish people paid dearly in blood and sweat to create this country and thus a new reality in which we, as the majority population for the first time in close to 2,000 years, could take control of our own destiny and physical security. This is not the United States, with its boundless expanse of territory, whose Statute of Liberty proudly proclaims for the benefit of ALL peoples: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Were we to make this call to the downtrodden of Africa, a continent lying literally at our doorstep, we would in no time be inundated and outnumbered by its wretched masses and effectively lose our country, our security, our future. Our figurative Statute of Liberty (found in our holy books) calls to the Jewish people, small in number, to return to our small and limited space that is Eretz Israel.

Now let me tell you a little about myself. I honestly am a person of great empathy, not an unknown trait to the Jewish people. In fact, it is very easy for me to feel empathy for you, to get carried away by sympathetic emotion and lose the thread. For three years of my life, while living in New York, I worked for a charitable organization for as little pay as an attorney could hope for and represented people just like you. My only clients were penniless asylum seekers, mostly from Africa, who were held in a detention center in New Jersey either to be sent back home or set free into the United States with refugee status. I managed to obtain refugee status, through Immigration Court, for over 30 asylum seekers, some of whom would have faced the worst of fates had they lost their case and were repatriated. I am not blind to the irony that it is I who writes this letter.

You, African migrants, have now decided that you must protest, shout loudly in a show of strength by virtue of your accumulated numbers. If you had any idea of the history of our people, and particularly of the current position our country finds itself in, you would have realized that what you are doing now plays on the worst of our fears. Seeing you congregate by the thousands at Rabin Square did not arouse sympathy in most of our people, in fact just the opposite. You have brought crystal clear focus on the fact that in the flicker of an eye you infiltrated our country by the tens of thousands and have now become a powerful mass which cannot be easily dismissed.

When some of us see you rally in such numbers, I must admit, we let our imagination envision future mob violence in our streets. I know the majority of you have not engaged in crime or violence while here. Yet you cannot deny that there are elements among you that have given the affected citizens of South Tel Aviv, whose neighborhood you have effectively conquered, a legitimate cause to be afraid to leave their homes at night. I myself have been a witness, on various occasions, to the violence members of your community have perpetrated in our streets, with my own eyes, not through the pen or camera lens of a reporter.

Are you not aware that our Jewish state is currently being threatened and heckled by the world? The Muslim countries that surround us, the Palestinians from the territories, elements among our Israeli Arab citizens, including the Bedouin population, all clamor against us. Europe is illogically driven sick over us and threatens us with boycotts. Virtually the entire Third World buys into the perception that we are colonialists repressing the indigenous Palestinians. Our little nation is caught in the center of a world fury which vilifies us, chooses to perpetuate or believe the most outrageous lies about us. Now you have added your own number to the masses clamoring against us.

Do you not perceive the effect your current course of action has on our psyche? You purposely and actively seek to taint us in the eyes of the world, protesting at various embassies, holding signs in English. You now give fodder to those already unsympathetic to our nation and our people to claim, “Look how the Jews on the one hand never cease to preach to us about the world having turned a blind eye and closed its doors to them during the Nazi persecution, yet they treat other refugees with disdain.”

You are now here, in Israel, and most of you cannot be deported even if we wanted to. Your home countries, mostly Eritrea and Sudan, will not take you back. Fortunately your infiltration has now been brought to a halt through sealing the Sinai border.

Yes, our Government has utterly failed in creating an effective and organized policy to deal with the situation — your situation. Yes, morality and humanity is certainly a consideration in how we proceed from here, since you are now here, and regardless of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claims, you are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Nevertheless, you have chosen to add yourselves to the long list of those who delegitimize us. Is this how you choose to gain our sympathy? No, you have not gained my sympathy. You have alarmed me instead. You have caused me to become weary of you.

About the Author
Ran Zev Schijanovich was born in Israel in 1970 to an Argentinian father and American mother, lived in Argentina through age 11, and then moved to New York. He made aliyah in 2005 and served as a combat soldier in Golani from the ages of 36 to 38. Ran is graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.