I participated in the demonstration of the Asylum Seekers in Tel-Aviv on earlier this month and returned home devastated. The issue prompting the demonstration—the so-called “Deposit Law”—may appear innocuous to those unfamiliar with the saga of these refugees .Its vicious ramifications, however, undermine the very justification for Israel to call itself a “Jewish state” and to claim any meaningful connection to the heritage of the Holocaust .
Simply stated, the government of Israel has decided to force the great majority of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Darfur to place their lives in grave danger. Yes, you read correctly. There’s no other way to characterize the ploy.
No state in the western world dares to expel refugees from Eritrea or Darfur, well aware of what the consequences would be. No state whatsoever.
So what has Israel’s self-proclaimed “national patriotic” government done? Instead of using creative thinking merged with compassion and universal Jewish values to arrive at a policy which will meet the needs of the refugees as well as those of their Jewish- Israeli neighbors in the poor sections of south Tel-Aviv, the efforts of the governing coalition in the past ten years have been concentrated essentially in incitement and demagogic cries to “send them back where they came from”. Government spokesmen even had the chutzpah to proclaim that the root of the problem is that the desperately fleeing refugees entered the country “illegally”. As a result, the authorities have consistently refused to deal even with the most basic needs of the asylum seekers, who have been forced to rely upon voluntary assistance, notably from the Tel-Aviv municipality and “Physicians for Human Rights”. The government , for its part, has built a jail and a detention center for them in the heart of the Negev Desert. As was written long ago about another persecuted group, however, “The more they were oppressed, so did they increase and multiply”.
Over the years, two African states in need of Israeli assistance—Rwanda and Uganda—were prevailed upon to offer “acceptance” to those refugees who would accept a “parting gift” of $3500 and fly over. Those who chose “repatriation to a third African state”, however, realized very quickly that they were offered no future there and were forced to risk their lives elsewhere, often as part of the big human mass making its way to Libya to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy in rickety craft. Needless to say, not all of them have remained alive.
It was then that our government of “super-proud Jews ” hatched an even more ingenious plan: If we are unable to expel these refugees and if they are now unwilling to fly to Rwanda or Uganda—let’s starve them! And thus was unveiled the “Deposit Law”, according to which the employer of every worker from Eritrea and Sudan (Darfur) was required to deduct 20% from their net monthly income –after all other deductions—to be deposited in a fund which would be made available to them only at their point of departure from Israel. Since virtually all the asylum seekers earn close to minimum wage salaries and they include many single-parent mothers , the practical meaning of the law is that the refugees will be forced to choose between being thrown into the street and facing death. And since the refugees –at the demonstration and elsewhere—have vowed not to be entrapped any more into flying to their death , their living conditions here will become untenable and unconscionable. All hopes are now focused upon the Supreme Court, which may well declare this piece of shoddy legislation illegal. But the beleaguered justices may decide otherwise. Wasting no time, the government has recently put the law into effect.
One way or another, however, something central to my identity has been shattered. Never –not in my darkest nightmares—could I imagine that the government of a Jewish state (much less one that flaunts its commitment to “Jewish values” ad nauseum ) could betray the essence of Jewish ethics. The Torah clearly states that fugitive slaves are not to be returned to their masters but are to” live with you… in your cities”. Moreover, a central moral insight garnered from our historic experience as frequently desperate refugees, sons and grandsons of other refugees, proclaims in our very kishkes that Asylum Seekers Must be Protected. My greatest heroes are the Righteous Gentiles , who risked their lives and often those of their children in order to conceal Jewish fugitives during the Holocaust—and conversely, I developed an antipathy toward all those who collaborated with the Nazis, directly or indirectly, to enable them to further their heinous goal. And now, a so-called “proud National Jewish government”, which insists that every foreign dignitary visit the Holocaust museum of Yad Vashem, has decided to indirectly collaborate with two murderous regimes in order to “be relieved” of unwanted non-Jewish refugees numbering less than 40,000 people.
I can conceive of no greater betrayal of the Jewish heritage.
On the fringes of the demonstration stood a group of about fifty Judeo-fascists shouting curses and threats with the assistance of microphones and drums, hatred seething from their mouths. I saw a multitude of Israeli flags, big round kippot and flailing tzitzit among them — but no hint of any kind of Jewish moral consciousness.
The Deposit Law represents the low point of the moral regression of those who unfortunately legislate in our name. It must be abolished. If there is a loud, effective outcry both here and abroad, perhaps the governing coalition can be brought to its senses.