So Much For Remembering: On Israel Forgetting Its History, and Expelling African Refugees
06/12/2012 - 18:41

So much for remembering our history; farewell to compassion. Those were my thoughts after reading the news this week that Israel officially began its plan to expel thousands of African immigrants, many of whom claim to be seeking political asylum.  On Monday, 115 Africans—mostly from South Sudan, which came into being only recently, after the horrors of Darfur—were arrested by the Israeli police. Another 73 were detained at the Israeli border. That is only the beginning of the plan to deport some 4,500 Africans under the Orwellian plan called Operation Going Home, created by the conservative government’s interior minister, Eli Yishai. A member of the religious Shas party, Yishai also called the poor Tel Aviv suburb where many of the immigrants live “a garbage can.”

The worry of guys like Yishai is that the Africans will dilute Israel’s Jewish character. I find that idea deeply offensive, even though I fully understand the broader issue of wanting Israel to retain a strong Jewish majority (though I take issue with it still).  But what this whole African issue really underscores is just how problematic Israel’s strict ethnic definition of a “Jewish state” is: to remain in control of their own affairs, Israel will have to effectively get in the business of ethnic cleansing.  One hopes this ethnic cleansing never turns into the bloody affair it has in so many other countries—but all we can do is hope.  Jewish-Muslim violence is all too real, and it doesn’t take difficult leaps of the imagination to imagine a bloody racial war. Already, racial violence flared up in Israel last week, when Israeli thugs set on fire an apartment full of Eritreans.

This paper, in an editorial last week, noted that there are honorable Jewish NGOs, like Jewish Hearts for Africa and Israel at Heart, that have been fighting hard for the rights of Israel’s African population—which stands at 60,000, in a country of about 7 million. But so long as an attitude of conservative ethnic tribalism dominates Israel’s politics, the voices of those noble NGOs will be merely perfunctory.  They’ll be foisted up as an duplicitous example of the democratic nature of a state that, in reality, increasingly shows signs of not knowing what that means.  Jews should know better—after all, we were in a position not unlike those Africans not more than 70 years ago.  Forced out of homes by ruthless bigots, then left out in the cold by almost everyone else.

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danielr4, I don't know why you bring up Eritreans. The column talks about South Sudan refugees. However, you make my point which is that a small, isolated nation like Israel cannot be a haven for literally hundreds of millions of people in Africa, and all over the world, who are in conflict and want asylum from these many wars. It just can't be done. Look, this is the UN's responsibility to help people fleeing from conflict 1000 times more than it is Israel's. Call upon the UN to make themselves useful for a change.

anonymous - you understanding of their situation is incorrect. The Israeli government and media refers to them as economic migrants as it does not have any policy for processing asylum requests. I know Africans who have evidence, with documents confirming this from the UN, of their need for asylum. But Israel will not take these applications any further. I have heard that this specific 'policy of no policy' exists because Israel doesn't want to have a situation whereby it would have Palestinians in Israel claiming asylum. So the situation exists that the vast majority of Eritreans who have claimed asylum in countries across the world have done so successfully, whilst none of the Eritreans in Israel have been giving asylum. According to the Israeli government, all the Eritreans in Israel are economic migrants. The point that should be debated and people made more aware of is that Israel is not following the appropriate procedures in assessing individuals case histories, which is should do as a signatory of the Geneva Convention.

'Jews should know better—after all, we were in a position not unlike those Africans not more than 70 years ago.' With due respect to Mr. Herschthal, the Holocaust and the experience of theses African immigrants to Israel is not similar at all. My understanding of their situation is that the overwhelming majority of the African immigrants are in Israel for 'economic' reasons. But I'd like to put that point aside. The fact of the matter is that every nation has a right and an obligation to secure their borders and rationally decide their immigration policies. It should be a matter of common sense that a small nation of 7 million people can not allow thousands and thousands of immigrants from a large continent to enter the country and stay indefinitely. No nation does that! Even China doesn't allow foreigners into their country for the purpose of staying forever.