Tragedies: Jews, Eritreans and Sudanese

In 1933 Germany, by a majority vote,  Adolf Hitler was elected as Chancellor of the German Reich.

Any Jew who could read saw the detailed visions that he had written in Mein Kampf while in Landsberg-am-Lech prison.

Most called him a fool or a madman in the belief that the Germany in which they had lived for almost one thousand years could not harm German citizens.

After Kristallnacht, Jews began to change their minds very quickly. Jewish lawyers, professors and doctors were now banned from practicing their professions. With no hope of finding new work, Jews began emigrating from the Fatherland, some to Palestine, some to South America, many to Canada and the United States. They came as refugees seeking asylum in new lands from the terrors from which they were  fleeing.

Eventually almost all of them found employment and housing and began to build a new life in a new world.

In Israel today, we are experiencing a similar situation.  38,000 Africans from Eritrea and South Sudan have fled from the dictators and tyrants of their countries and by way of Egypt, most crossed illegally into Israel seeking asylum.

They were settled in the worst parts of Tel-Aviv, where for many years the neighborhood had been decrepit and unpleasant, but it provided a roof over their heads and a sense of safety and security.

They found odd jobs which paid minimum wages and sent their children to schools. Most of them learned the basic Hebrew language and worked hard to put their lives in order.

Among the many thousands were criminals and drug addicts and the earlier Jewish residents of south Tel-Aviv were frightened to walk on the streets near their homes at night. Several rapes and robberies occurred and the police were totally unable to put an end to the crimes.

Some came seeking asylum because their lives were at stake if they returned to their home countries. But many others came only to find good paying jobs. They were “commercial” refugees and not asylum seekers.

The Israeli government had for some years sought ways to evict them from the country. Choice was given to them to accept deportation with a gift of $3,500 and a free plane ticket home, or to face imprisonment.

We have learned sadly of the crisis they face since many thousands of them prefer prison to deportation. Their experiences in Israel had, for the most part, been happy ones. Some even made friends with the Jewish residents of the neighborhood.

Their tragedies are similar to those which we faced in Europe from 1933-1945. We too had no place to flee. No one wanted us. And the British mandatory authorities issued very few certificates for immigration, pressured by the Arab leadership in Palestine to prevent an increase of Jews arriving to settle. Tragically and painfully, each one of us understands the results of the Final Solution.

Recently I read in the Hebrew press that some 20,000 Jews were marching through streets in Tel—Aviv protesting the government’s plan to deport most of the 38,000 Africans. It is a very sad story which we Jews know only too well.

Yes, the criminals among them should be arrested, deported or imprisoned while the legitimate asylum seekers should be permitted to remain. If they become citizens and fulfill military duties they will be well-cared for with good health care and all the rights of Israeli citizenship. At the very least, they should be permitted to remain as permanent residents if not citizens.

Jews who fled persecution in search of a peaceful and safe new dwelling place should open their hearts to the tragedies of the Eritrean and South Sudanese communities. The government, for its part, has the right to deport those who entered our borders illegally while granting asylum to the genuine refugees.

As Jews and as Israelis, we can do no less.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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