Opinion | Should Israel Deport African Asylum Seekers? | Yes, It Should

We need to bear witness to the Talmudic dictum, “The poor people living in your own city come first.”
By | Mar 12, 2018
israel asylum yes

Often these days, Israelis get the feeling that diaspora Jews feel entitled to sit back and call out instructions and demands from the sidelines, like fans at a football game, without having to bear the consequences of their advice. A case in point is the hot debate over the so-called anti-infiltration law, intended to allow Israel to deport African migrants who have been in the country illegally for a decade or more. Groups outside Israel are seeking to defeat the law and, it seems, to embarrass and defame the State of Israel for passing it.

The law—which applies to Africans, mostly Sudanese and Eritreans, who crossed illegally into Israel through Egypt between 2006 and 2012—gives a March deadline for them to leave the country or face incarceration. Those who leave sooner receive a $3,500 grant as well as a plane ticket. Those who would risk harm by returning to their home countries will be sent to third countries, reportedly Rwanda or Uganda. To encourage compliance, the law also withholds 20 percent of wages earned by infiltrators, to be disbursed upon their leaving the country.

Susan Silverman: “No, it shouldn’t”—Click here to read

Although there are almost 40,000 such illegal migrants in Israel, the law targets only males over 18. It does not apply to women, children, parents of small children, the elderly or even men who applied for asylum by January 1.

The interference of outsiders into this internal Israeli problem is even more egregious given the sincere heartache of Israelis themselves over this far-from-simple issue. Israeli doctors, pilots and high-profile businessmen have joined a chorus of infuriated protestors against the law. Thirty-six Holocaust survivors signed a protest letter to the prime minister.

Given the collective memory of Israelis of forced wandering, fear of death from enemies and painful denial of shelter, this is perhaps no wonder. But the truth is that most Israelis, myself included, overwhelmingly support this law. A recent Israel Today survey found 58 percent of Israelis in favor and only 23 percent against.

To understand why, one must look at the sorry unfolding of this tragic story. Ten years ago, Israel opened its doors to Africans braving the long trek through the Sinai Desert who were shot in cold blood by Egyptian soldiers and more often than not raped or murdered by their Bedouin smugglers. For this act of compassion, Israel found itself flooded by more than 61,000 Africans, almost all of whom took up residence in poor areas of South Tel Aviv. A 2015 police survey of residents in this area showed that 62 percent were afraid to go out after dark and 40 percent didn’t feel safe in their homes. It’s not paranoia or racism. According to police statistics quoted in a 2014 report from Israel’s Center for Immigration Policy, sexual offenses and violent crimes in neighborhoods with a large percentage of migrants were more than double and triple the rates of such crimes in the general population. Robberies were six times more frequent.

After a decade of begging the government for help to no avail, thousands of longtime residents of these parts of Tel Aviv have simply fled. Journalist Gilad Zwick quotes one of them who refused to give her name: “Illegal immigrants have completely taken over public areas, shout obscenities at us on a daily basis, make sexual comments to my daughter, or…disrespect our Jewish traditions.” In March 2017, a 29-year-old Eritrean was charged with the attempted rape of an 80-year-old woman. Only a few days later, a 40-year-old woman was brutally raped in the same area. Less acknowledged, but equally worrisome, is the fact that these African migrants are overwhelmingly Muslim and Christian, creating a demographic time bomb as well as a security risk if they stay.

So far, the problem has cost Israelis hundreds of millions of dollars. A 153-mile border fence in the Sinai, constructed to combat smuggling and other problems, cost $370 million and has spectacularly brought infiltration down to zero. But the cost of caring for the 40,000 illegals remaining in Israel after a push to have them leave voluntarily is ongoing.

In South Tel Aviv, children of illegals now outnumber Israelis in local schools and accounted for 94 percent of children treated at one local clinic. Haim Goren, a member of Tel Aviv’s city council, has said that last year’s city budget included more than $30 million earmarked for illegals, much of it at the expense of local residents, whose request for a building for teens at risk was turned down: “There was simply not enough room.”

The claim that Israel’s policy is at odds with Jewish values is now being made by a long list of leftist-leaning Jewish organizations whose policies, morals and compassion seem, oddly yet characteristically, to exclude concern for Israelis themselves. Many of the same groups supported past policies that were disastrous for Israelis, whether advocating for the Oslo Accords that almost got my entire family blown up in the Park Hotel or championing the Israeli disengagement from Gaza that resulted in Hamas rocket launchers replacing Israeli lettuce hothouses.

As for morality, Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau, son of survivors, had this to say: “The State of Israel is obliged to help refugees,” he told Yediot Aharonot. “But let’s distinguish between refugees and work-seeking migrants. And let’s not distort or deny the Holocaust. We need to bear witness to the Talmudic dictum which teaches us that ‘The poor people living in your own city come first.’”

Naomi Ragen is a novelist, playwright and journalist living in Jerusalem. She is the author of ten novels. Her most  recent is The Devil in Jerusalem.

4 thoughts on “Opinion | Should Israel Deport African Asylum Seekers? | Yes, It Should

  1. David Wasser says:

    Naomi Ragen’s attempt to rationalize the cruel bigotry of this decision fails utterly. She notes – as if it were an act of Mother-Theresian kindness – that the law only applies to males over 18. Shall we celebrate Israel’s moral superiority over Egyptian soldiers because while they will shoot refugees, we will only separate mothers from sons, husbands from wives, and brothers from sisters? Never mind the fact that this provision proves the lie of this as an issue of being overwhelmed by refugees. If it only applies to a minority of the total number, then how much can it really be about a drain on resources?
    Let there be no mistake: the motivation behind this law is the same bigotry that led the United States to turn away boatloads of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, and the excuses given are identical. The fact that people in Tel Aviv don’t “feel” safe is not evidence that they are not safe. And the crime statistics that Ragen cherry-picks cleverly forestall any attempt at a meaningful analysis. The crime rate in refugee neighborhoods could be due to any number of factors unrelated to skin color or religion. Israel has its own issues of sexual crimes to account for, and a home-grown culture of machismo that gives rise to violence and harassment towards women.
    Perhaps the most offensive part of Ragen’s piece is the distortion of the Talmudic verse, which does not distinguish between people based on national origin, ethnicity, religion, or legal status. It says to take care of the “people living in your own city” – meaning that one should not overlook the deprivation under one’s own nose before seeking to do good in the wider world. These refugees are living in Tel Aviv, having been welcomed ten years ago. It is now Israel’s moral and ethical obligation to support their integration into the society. American Jews stand ready to assist our brothers, sisters, and cousins in this responsibility.

  2. Paul Brandon says:

    The population of Israel is about 8.6 Million — 40,000 is less than one half of one percent of this.
    I would think that Israel could handle it.

  3. Joshua Zev Rokach says:

    As an Orthodox Jew, I am appalled by the author cloaking a mean-spirited attitude, if not her racism, in the cloak of religion. The Torah states in Deuteronomy, “You shall not extradite a slave to his master, when the slave escaped to you from his master.” One could argue, as the US Congress did in the 19th Century when it adopted the Fugitive Slave Act, that as property, a slave belongs back in chains. Yet the Torah forbids expelling a slave. All the more, does it forbid expelling a free person who flees to Israel.

    Moreover, it she read the Talmud, the notion of :”city first” concerns priorities for charity. It says noting about expelling foreigners. And “city”means residents, not just citizens. In any case, by her logic, we US Jews should send no money to Israel, as we have poverty here.

    Finally, as other commentators point out, Israel has the resources to handle the refugees. If not, it can appeal the UN Refugee Agency for funds.

    Menachem Begin, presiding over a smaller GDP, took in the Vietnamese Boat People. Why cannot Benjamin Netanyahu, who boasts of Israel’s prosperity, take in the Africans?

  4. Aaron Amihud says:

    Well written argument. Bless you for writing it. The Torah advocates for adherence to law and protecting our borders. These fighting age men prefer to wash dishes in my country than to fight for their own country. In their own country is the hope for their freedom. In my country they will receive servitude and exploitation.

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