When a letter to the editor of an internationally recognized news source that comes from a spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Washington is full of falsehoods it is hard to ignore it.
Claims such as most of the African asylum seekers here in Israel are actually migrant workers can’t be corroborated in part because the Israeli government won’t take the vast majority of the claims that these refugees want to make. As well, the centers that are described in the letter as providing free food and healthcare have also been described as “not suitable for humans” by Israeli officials in some cases.
Beyond that, Interior Minister, MK Eli Yishai has stated outright that the purpose of the desert prisons is to get African asylum seekers to give up and go back to where they came from, whether it is dictator-ruled Eritrea or war/genocide torn Sudan.
The letter’s author does correctly explain that there are enormous social and economic challenges involved in the situation, but trounces on this kernel of truth by following up with the suggestion that Israel “welcomes” all those who are seeking asylum, which is patently false. For example, it has been pointed out by people who have done important research that Israel’s rate of acceptance of asylum claims is 1 in 4600 compared to the worldwide rate which is closer to 75% for Sudanese and just under 85% for Eritreans.
The sheer volume of information available after a simple google search should have deterred the letter’s author from taking a stance that so boldly counters reality.
In Israel, African refugees are called infiltrators in the media and on the streets. Saturday night anti-African rallies, with a speakers list including members of Knesset like Michael Ben-Ari, can turn into a race riot. As well, the Israeli government has passed a law that allows parents and children alike to be locked up for life just for having the strength and courage to escape north to a country with a population of people who have had similar experiences.
As the letter writer wrote, there are enormous challenges to be met. The reality in Israel, though, is that racism toward non-Jewish Africans is growing in the government, in the media and in the streets. Luckily, there are also people in Israel and around the world who are working through activism, media, education and direct relief work to answer this crisis with humanity and care. A lack of action on the part of the international community is no excuse to turn away from people seeking asylum from serious danger and oppression.
The threat that some on the Israeli Right see that the Jewish character of the state is being lost is true, not because of demographics but because of our treatment of the strangers in our strange land. It is true because the absent connection to justice, truth and peace as the fundamental ideals of our people has led us toward a deficit of Jewish values and therefore of Jewish character.
Sweeping our problems under a rug instead of facing them doesn’t serve justice, truth, or peace, and it certainly doesn’t serve Israel.