Israel, African Asylum seekers and a moral conundrum

Earlier this year in January, more than 30,000 African migrants filled the streets of Tel-Aviv, demanding the Israeli government grant them refugee status and end the policy of detention without trial.

According to statistics, more than 60,000 migrants have crossed into Israel since 2006, most of whom come from Eritrea. In 2012, Israel’s High Court rejected a law passed in the Knesset which would detain migrants for up to three years without trial.

I do understand the legitimate concerns Israelis have. As a result of many migrants coming to Israel. Some are worried about the violence being perpetrated by some of the migrants, some worry about the financial investments into these asylum seekers. All are legitimate concerns. But, how far will some of it’s citizens and government go to express their displeasures?

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel released a report in 2012,  which looked at the abuses many of these migrants faced. Some Israeli citizens were reported to have burned, attacked, looted, and beaten these migrants. As the ACRI mentions in its report : “Molotov cocktails were thrown at the homes of asylum seekers and at a kindergarten in the Shapira neighborhood of Tel Aviv…Three Eritrean asylum seekers were stabbed in the Shapira neighborhood, and a demonstration against so-called ‘infiltrators’ in the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv descended into a display of unbridled violence.”

It was revealed by Hareetz in 2013 that Israel had been secretly smuggling nearly 2,000 asylum seekers back to Sudan. This act contravened a ruling held by the Israeli Supreme Court, because of the danger many asylum seekers face when returning to their countries. This act was described by the UN Representative in Israel as “the gravest violation possible of the convention that Israel has signed – a crime never before committed”

In April of 2013, the US State Department publicly criticised Israel’s actions of Non-Jewish African refugees. There have been many incidents of hate incited by right-wing MKs towards these individuals, and sadly, their actions have been repeated by their followers.

Now, of course, this article is not meant to smear all Israelis or Israel itself. I am friends with several Israelis, and never have they once disrespected me.

However, we as a people must recognize the abuse that has been committed by the Israeli government and some of its citizens towards these individuals. We cannot remain silent and continue to entertain the notion that everything is fine, and nothing is an issue.

Furthermore, Diaspora Jews must in some way, address this situation. Personally, as a black male, I believe I would be better off in Israel than in the rest of the Middle East, but that does not excuse the racist behavior demonstrated in Israel.

If Israel is to live up to it’s ideals and principles as a functioning Democracy, it must extend that to those who want to become a part of the family.

Some may see this article as anti-Israel. It’s not. Supporting everything Israel does is not “Pro-Israel”. Such a position is folly, and only re-affirms the notion of “the blind leading the blind”.

In my opinion being pro-Israel means we must applaud her for successes, and criticise her when necessary. For how can a country and her people evolve, if no one is prepared to point out not only their mistakes, but a solution?

About the Author
Dennis Austin is a political science major at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and regular contributor.
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