Under a so-called infiltrator’s law, more than 1,000 African asylum seekers in Israel face deportation from Israeli detention centers starting in March.
Speaking at a recent Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the harsh enforcement policy. “We are not acting against refugees,” he said. “We are acting against illegal migrants who come here not as refugees, but for work needs. Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees and will remove illegal migrants from its midst.”
Netanyahu stressed that Israel has made arrangements with a third country that “assures the personal security of those who leave here.”
But the enforcement action has met with fierce opposition from 35 prominent Israeli authors and 500 Israeli academics.
In a letter addressed to the prime minister, the college and university faculty wrote, “We have a duty to remember that we were persecuted foreigners and refugees. … We must welcome the asylum seekers who fled from their homes and their homelands in order to save their own lives and the lives of their family members.”
A similar letter was signed by 50 rabbis associated with the orthodox pluralistic association, Torat Chayim. They called on the state to uphold Jewish law and follow the biblical prohibition from Deuteronomy 23:16: “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master a bondman that is escaped from his master unto thee.”
The letter called on Netanyahu “to act morally, humanely and with compassion worthy of the Jewish people, and to stop the deportation of refugees to the hell from which they fled before it starts.” The letter concluded, “Otherwise, we will have no reason to exist.”
Opposition to forcibly deporting asylum seekers and indefinitely imprisoning anyone who refuses to leave has been growing in Israel. Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of U.S. comedian Sarah Silverman, is among those who called on Israelis to shelter the asylum seekers in their homes.
“People risked their lives to save Jews, and we as a country are now saying we don’t want to risk the tiniest demographic shift?” she asked. Silverman hopes to enlist support from American Jews in the campaign to stop the planned expulsions.
In a related development, a group of Israeli airline pilots have vowed not to fly deported African asylum seekers and refugees back to war-stricken countries on their home continent, Israeli media has reported.
“Throughout the world, citizens are fighting cruel expulsion decrees and standing alongside refugees and asylum-seekers,” Raluca Gena, head of an Israeli NGO, Zizim, said. “This is a test for the Israeli public to determine the fate of tens of thousands of people.”