Yes, Israel should do everything humanly possible to create the conditions where this massive mass migration of human beings out of Africa will no longer be the average African’s preferred choice. At the same time, there is no rational reason why we should endanger the fragile balance of Israeli society by absorbing tens of thousands of some other society’s social problems! There is a better way!
We are in a situation whereby for quite a few years we have had to deal with the [African asylum seekers] problem, [wee need] to grab the bull by its horns and to understand that the needy among our people come before the poor of another, while at the same time [acknowledging] we have a duty to every refugee. First of all, we have to take care of our people, our citizens. We need to ease their lives.
President Reuven Rivlin February 8, 2018
It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation. If we don’t help the estimated 40,000 illegal immigrants who successfully entered Israel illegally over the past few years, the country of Israel will be perceived as a cold cruel society with no empathy for others. If we do accept them and integrate them into Israeli society, in addition to whatever short-term challenges this task might present, we open the proverbial doors to hundreds of thousands of other Africans desperate to find a better place to live.
As I write this, some of my children are marching in protest against the deportation of these immigrants. Other members of my family are not marching and probably refuse to express their opinions openly to avoid creating tension within the family. No one should think that the average Israeli isn’t concerned with the issue – we are.
Over the past couple of years since my retirement, I’ve been actively participating in online courses given by an organization called Acumen (Acumen.org) at their education site PlusAcumen.org, perhaps the largest school for social change in the world today. As a result of my exposure to Acumen and the thousands of idealistic people who participate in their program and that I “meet” in their courses I believe there is a better solution. There is no doubt in my mind that the optimal solution is to find a way to empower these evidently highly motivated economic asylum seekers and help them build productive lives for themselves and their families in Africa.
What I’m suggesting here is not an Israeli version of Australia’s “push-back” policy, nor do I support “dumping” the illegal immigrants to Israel in whichever African country willing to accept them for a fee. In a world gone mad, I’m suggesting no less than a kind of Marshall plan to save the African continent. Israel, with our experience, our technology and in cooperation with international organizations like UNHCR could spearhead pilot programs to demonstrate the viability of such an initiative.
Investing in economic infrastructures, occupational training and facilitating various forms of international trade arrangements with these same initiatives, entire communities can be galvanized to build a common future. As various pilot programs develop and African communities and hopefully their governments see the long-term benefits of working with them, more and more similar initiatives can be started and larger populations can be involved. Between 1948 and 1951 more than $140 Billion dollars (At today’s value) was invested in the reconstruction of a Europe devastated by war. There could be no better solution both for Africa and the countries targeted by African refugees than a similar international initiative to assist African in joining the rest of the world in the 21st century.
As the ancient parable explains, the highest form of charity is not to give an individual a fish (to eat) but to teach him how to fish on their own. So too, the real solution here is not the limited issue of the current 40,000 economic asylum seekers here in Israel but the tens of millions of desperate others trapped in an African reality with little hope or prospect of a better future for themselves and their families.
Focusing on the real problem and seeking real solutions will inevitably provide resolution for our local symptoms.