December 30, 2018

Israeli illegal immigration: Crossing the line

Nina Robins ‘19
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Israel has always been a place where refugees can seek haven from their oppressive societies. Such has been the case for African migrants – Jewish and not – many of whom have escaped war and turmoil in their home countries in search of better opportunity and equality for themselves and their families.
Though Israel has an illustrious past in its aid for refugees, it has been a long time since Operation Moses, in which Israel airlifted hundreds of Ethiopian Jews to safety. Today, rather than supporting African refugees in need of eagles’ wings, the Israeli government has resorted to sticking them in southern Tel Aviv slums, cycles of poverty and, worse, has threatened them with deportation.
Pressured by his religious right wing coalition members, Prime Minister Netanyahu proposed a plan in November 2017 to deport 40,000 illegal Eritrean and Sudanese migrants. Backlash from liberal Israeli and American groups led Netanyahu to decrease the scope of the deportation, but further party pressure led Netanyahu to ramp the number back up.
This back-and-forth was finally resolved when Netanyahu dropped the issue entirely and left the fate of illegal migrants in Israel largely undetermined.
Although the Israeli government ultimately abandoned its deportation plan, the factors that contributed to its negotiations in the first place are indicative of deeply rooted issues in Israeli society.
For example, at no point since the founding of the State of Israel, not even during its many African rescue missions in the 1990s, did the country legally differentiate between migrant workers and asylum seekers.
Because Israel has no system of determining the true status of illegal immigrants, the Netanyahu administration firmly concluded that all illegal African migrants are merely “job seekers.” Beyond ignoring the blatant desperation of African asylum seekers from war-torn countries, Israel has made it increasingly difficult for Africans, Jewish or not, to immigrate legally.
These efforts to address its illegal immigration problem, by essentially barring new migrants and threatening those in the country already, is just one example of Israel's utter failure to effectively address immigration policy.
Most migrants are clearly mistreated, and not given necessary the resources to successfully assimilate into Israeli society. National aid, vocational training and even courses in Hebrew are scarce in Israel’s African migrant communities.
In addition to Israel’s horrific handling of migrants, both legal and illegal, the government often overreacts to the threat of illegal migrants that live in the country – hence, the original deportation proposal.
Illegal African migrants make up only 70,000 members of Israel’s population, hardly a fraction of a percentage of the nearly nine million total Israelis, and do not have a major effect on the country at all.
This shocking point demonstrates a deeper flaw in the current Israeli government, which is largely pressured by a religious majority in Israel’s parliament to enact detrimental and at times discriminatory measures against Israelis who are not Haredi Jews.
If Haredi Jews are concerned about their Jewish State being overrun by non-Jewish Africans, targeting illegal immigrants is an ineffective waste of their time.
Ironically, for all the emphasis on strict adherence to Judaism in the Israeli government, the Netanyahu administration in particular is failing to act on the most basic of Jewish principles: loving your neighbor as yourself and welcoming guests.
The treatment of African migrants in Israel, many of whom are simply seeking better lives for themselves and their families, is deplorable. The Israeli government must reconsider its behavior towards those seeking shelter within its borders and act on real Jewish empathy to better their lives.

Even though the discarded Israeli deportation plan is a news story of the past, its implications on Israel’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and on all Israeli citizens, will remain significant for a long time to come.

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