Netanyahu criticised us, but we stand for democracy

Before Pesach, I wrote to our supporters explaining how our work is inspired by the message Atah b’nai chorin (once you were slaves and now you are free). I explained how we hoped to celebrate our freedom by helping others.

Everyone deserves to raise their families and live their lives in peace – whether they are Israelis who live in south Tel Aviv or are people seeking asylum in Israel. And over the past couple of months, it has been inspiring to see massive numbers of Israelis who have taken to the streets to stand for this simple principle.

And last Monday, the third day of Pesach, it seemed we would have this celebration when the Israeli government announced a deal with the UNHCR to resettle African asylum seekers in Israel or the West, rather than deport them to Africa. This agreement appeared to be a real moment of celebration for those standing up for the human treatment of 38,000 people seeking protection and refuge in Israel.

However, a few hours after announcing the deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked and cancelled it following criticism from within his political coalition. He then went on to attack my organisation, the New Israel Fund (NIF), blaming us for scuttling his deal with Rwanda (it appeared he thought it would accept those being forcibly deported) and called for a parliamentary commission into our work.

We see right through these threats from the prime minister. We know he is lashing out to deflect attention from his policy failures. And we are proud of what we are doing to stand for the rights of people seeking refuge and for the rights of all those who live in Israel.

There is a reason Netanyahu is coming after NIF. We stand for equality. We fight for Israel’s democracy. And we give voice to the enormous number of Israelis who share our values. His decision is already having an impact.

More than 2,500 Israelis – including Knesset Members and other public figures – donated to NIF in the first couple of days since his statement. More than 95 percent had never donated to NIF before. These Israelis know it is about more than money. It is a statement of solidarity. It is a way to stand for free speech and for democracy.

NIF did not pressure the Rwandan government to refuse to participate in the cruel plan. We did support massive numbers of Israelis standing up for what is right and demanding action from their own government – from airline pilots who would refuse to fly forced deportees, to headteachers, residents of South Tel Aviv and Holocaust survivors who spoke up for those seeking asylum.

NIF is proud of our work. Our position is clear when it comes to the people seeking asylum in Israel: everybody deserves to live and raise their families in safety. The Israeli Government needs to create an efficient process that fairly examines the case of every person seeking asylum. No person should be deported or detained until their case has been reviewed.

Now that the government’s approach to the issue has failed, we are seeing Israelis stepping up again. We are working with them to make sure the policy that comes next respects human rights and that 38,000 people are not left in limbo. We also need to make sure the needs and voices of the long-term residents of south Tel Aviv, where many who seek asylum reside, are not ignored.

The threat of the parliamentary commission is not about NIF. We have nothing to hide about where our funding comes from – the vast majority of our donations come from individuals and family foundations in our communities – nor the projects in Israel we support. Ultimately the threat is about all of us – everyone who cares about democracy and equality in Israel.

About the Author
Adam Ognall is Chief Executive of the New Israel Fund.
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