Since I referenced this summer’s violence against African refugees in Tel Aviv in my Rosh Hashanah sermon Being Change, a few people have asked for more information about African migrants in Israel. Here is a collection of (English-language) resources: an overview, some news links, some opinion essays, and some nonprofit organizations in Israel doing good work in this area.
Israel houses a large number of African migrants (most estimates say that the African population in Israel is between 60,000 and 70,000). Most of those migrants come from Eritrea and Sudan, and most are in the country illegally, which means that they cannot obtain work visas.
Some argue that the Africans who enter Israel illegally (sometimes called “infiltrators,” which is a term with a specific history — see Infiltrated by history, The Daily Beast) are linked to an increase in crime, that Israel does not have the resources to support them, and that they should be detained and/or deported. Others argue that the Africans who enter Israel illegally are refugees fleeing persecution and seeking a better life, and that Israel has both a legal and an ethical obligation to aid them. (I also know people who believe both of those at once: that the influx of migrants is more than Israel can support, and that they are refugees who deserve aid.)
Recent months have seen an increase in incidents of violence against Africans. Some blame the violence against Africans on crime committed by Africans, and others attribute the violence against Africans to general anti-immigrant sentiment or to poor economic conditions which contribute to social unrest. Also this year, Israel amended its 1954 Prevention of
Infiltration Law, which now permits Israel to detain migrants for three or more years. (See Migrants in prison protest ‘infiltrators’ law, Jerusalem Post.) A Jerusalem district court judge issued a preliminary injunction on October 12 banning the summary arrests of Sudanese refugees (see Court prohibits detention of Sudanese refugees days before mass arrests begin, +972); another ruling on this is expected soon.
For more information: The Refugee Situation in Israel (a page provided by the African Refugee Development Center); FAQ on Violence Against Asylum Seekers in Israel (that page is courtesy of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society); African Refugees in Israel (Rabbis for Human Rights).
Articles about the situation:
Please note that these articles, which aim to be news rather than opinion pieces, paint a range of different pictures of the situation.
- Sharp rise in African migration into Israel, by Shira Rubin, The Times of Israel. “The number of African asylum seekers crossing the Israeli-Egyptian border reached a record high in May, the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority revealed on Thursday.”
- Israeli Anger over ‘African’ Crime Wave, The Forward. “A crime wave blamed on Africans, including two recent rapes, has stoked
long-standing hostility toward the country’s estimated 60,000 illegal
African immigrants and sparked an ugly wave of retaliatory violence
- African Migrants Attacked in Tel Aviv, The New York Times. “After a rally demanding the immediate expulsion of migrants seeking
asylum in Israel led to a spate of attacks on Africans in Tel Aviv late
Wednesday, political leaders condemned the violence but vowed to crack
down on illegal immigration.”
- Israel confronts a flood of African refugees, by Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post. “Israel, as government officials here like to point out, is the only first-world country that you can walk to from Africa. This geographic reality has produced a flood — 60,000 in the last seven years — of refugees who make their way first to Egypt and then through the Sinai desert to Israel’s southern border.”
- Netanyahu: Israel could be overrun by African “infiltrators,” Ha’aretz. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the phenomenon of illegal infiltrators from Africa is extremely serious and threatens Israel’s social fabric and national security.”
- Yishai Warns African Infiltrators Crushing Israel, Arutz Sheva. “Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon, chairman of the Knesset lobby dealing with the problem of infiltrators, recently stated, “They are a blow to the country, and we need to deport them before it is too late.”
- State using Infiltrators’ Law in place of Evidence, Jerusalem Post. “The Executive Director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Reut Michaeli, said on Thursday that the state is using the so-called ‘infiltrators law’ as a sort of administrative detention for illegal migrants who they do not have enough evidence to convict of crimes.”
- Yishai: I Sound Racist – But I’m Not, Arutz Sheva. “Minister of Interior: ‘Infiltrators and Palestinians will bring a quick end to the Zionist dream.’”
- Eritreans protest Negev detention facility, Jerusalem Post. “Rallying under slogan ‘Israel, don’t put us in prison, again’, migrants protest facility meant to house thousands of Africans.”
Opinion pieces: These next links are to op-eds / opinion pieces, which — like the news articles — paint a range of pictures of the situation.
- For an ethical African migrants policy in Israel, global Jewry can help, by Chaim Landau, Ha’aretz. “The Israeli government, if it is to uphold both its Jewish and international obligations, should form a committee tasked with creating ethical policy on the issue of African migrants, with leading experts from Israel and the entire Jewish world.”
- The strangers among us, by Naomi Ragen, Jerusalem Post. “I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I am looking at the roundup of African asylum-seekers with an equal mixture of heartbreak and relief.”
- Israel’s refugee hypocrisy, by Gershom Gorenberg, The American Prospect. “Its mythology is grounded in exile and return, so why won’t Israel grant refugee status to North Africans in need?”
- Southern Tel Aviv Residents: We Live in Constant Fear, Arutz Sheva. “Arutz Sheva visits the neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, hears from
local residents who live in fear because of illegal infiltrators.”
- Ethiopian-Israeli Jews, mistaken for African migrant workers, feel racism’s pain, JTA. “When violent riots against African migrant workers erupted in south Tel
Aviv recently, a mob attacked Hanania Wanda, a Jew of Ethiopian origin,
mistaking him for a Sudanese migrant worker.”
- Israel Can’t Solve Africa’s Problems, Commentary. “Those who are quick to accuse Israel of racism should remember that it
went to great trouble and expense to facilitate the mass immigration of
tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the past generation.”
- Addressing the Plight of the African Refugees in Israel, by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, The Jewish Journal. “As Jews, we are a nation of immigrants commanded to love and protect the stranger in our midst. This imperative is highest when we have sovereignty. It is not only our historical condition but also our eternal identity as the children of Abraham, the paradigmatic stranger.”
- If you do only one thing for Israel this year, let it be this, by Bradley Burston, Ha’aretz. “The asylum seekers want nothing more than to live productive lives and contribute to this society. Their children are as Israeli as anyone, they belong in the only home they have ever known… If you do only one thing for Israel this year, let it be this: Send a message. Write a letter.”
- Israel’s African Problem, a podcast at Tablet magazine. “Israeli officials argue that the deportations are necessary because the migrants are a burden and a threat to the country’s Jewish majority. Critics say the policy violates human rights, not to mention Jewish values…”
- The Africans in Tel Aviv and Jewish Values, by Dov Lipman, The Times of Israel. “The issue of the African ‘infiltrators’ in Israel is very complicated. The arguments for deportation of illegal immigrants who are not employed and are committing crimes certainly resonate with a large percentage of the population. Arguments about providing refuge for these individuals on humanitarian grounds certainly tug at the heart. But, I have yet to hear anyone discuss the situation from the perspective of core Jewish values.”
- +972 Magazine coverage – Asylum Seekers, +972. This online magazine, named after Israel’s country code, features new reporting and opinion pieces about this aspect of Israeli life and culture regularly. This link goes to the collection of their coverage of this issue.
If you are interested in making a donation to a nonprofit organization which works in this arena, here are some which you might consider:
New Israel Fund
New Israel Fund is the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis. We believe that Israel can live up to its founders’ vision of a state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race, gender or national identity.
Our values drive our work. We fight inequality, injustice and extremism because we understand that justice is the precondition for a successful democracy — and the only lasting road to peace.
African Refugee Development Center
The African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 by refugees and Israeli citizens to assist, support and empower refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. The ARDC seeks to ensure access to basic social services, to facilitate integration and promote self-sufficiency. It also advocates for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and for a humane and fair Israeli asylum policy. The ARDC’s work includes individual counseling, humanitarian aid, education, community development, awareness raising and policy initiatives. Through the ARDC, diverse communities are drawn together to promote understanding and cooperation amongst refugees and the broader population.
In collaboration with the Tel Aviv Refugee Clinic, we employ nurses from within the migrant community to improve the health of this population. These nurses are uniquely qualified for working in the migrant community as they are multilingual, highly trained in their home countries, eager to work, and already have their fingers on the ‘pulse’ of their community. (This group recently completed initial fundraising via IndieGoGo and has now hired five Eritrean nurses to tend to the health of the largely Eritrean refugee population in Tel Aviv.)
We Are Refugees / אנו פליטים
Israeli Foundation for Legal Aid to Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Stateless. “We are Refugees” is a non-profit organization founded on October 2010 by a group of lawyers who represent asylum seekers and refugees in Israel on a pro-bono basis. These lawyers donate their time in order to represent refugees in the Israeli court system. See also The Refugees’ Rights Forum, which consists of eight human rights organizations active in promoting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, as well as implementing activities on their behalf.
I welcome links to more articles and resources — please feel free to share more in comments.
(Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)