African migrants take part in a protest against Israel's detention policy toward them.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The first question put to President Reuven Rivlin at a meeting that he hosted for ambassadors serving in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and Latin America concerned the fate of the African asylum-seekers who are facing deportation.
Rivlin, who is sympathetic to the plight of genuine refugees, recalled how prime minister Menachem Begin had provided a haven for some 360 Vietnamese boat people fleeing from the communist takeover of their country four decades ago.
Rivlin said that when the African refugees began arriving in Israel, he, as speaker of the Knesset, had proposed that measures be taken to determine who was an authentic refugee and who was simply looking for work.
The need to do this has become more urgent over the years as increasing numbers of Africans flocked to Israel, often endangering their lives as they made their way across deserts.
Putting out a hand of friendship to refugees is a humane act and a moral obligation, said Rivlin, “especially if we want to fulfill our mission to be a light unto the nations.”
The numbers have now become unwieldy, he said, and in the process, the related problems have multiplied.
Though more care should have been taken to disperse the asylum-seekers to different parts of the country instead of allowing them to congregate and overrun much of south Tel Aviv, said Rivlin, he believed that after years of coping with an ever increasing challenge, the decisions currently being taken by the government are significant and logical, even though they may be emotionally disturbing.
He was convinced that among the among the asylum- seekers, there are certainly genuine refugees who deserve all the help they can get, but there many who are not refugees and should not be helped at the expense of Israeli citizens.
“Israel must look after her own first,” he said.
He also pointed out during the meeting at his official residence on Thursday that where African migrants have caused trouble, it is up to the government to rectify the situation.
He noted that inasmuch as the difficulties concerning African migrants and their possible deportation to a third country had been exacerbated, there was little likelihood of another major intake as provisions have been made to prevent future illegal entry.
Prior to the discussion on deportation, Rivlin had thanked the ambassadors in the name of the state and the people of Israel for their dedicated and highly professional work in combating anti-Israel movements and sentiments including contending with BDS.
Diplomacy, he said, is one of the central missions of a country, and often incurs navigating through stormy waters.
Nonetheless, the president highlighted that whatever anti-Israel feelings the diplomats encounter, they should constantly be aware of the country’s hi-tech achievements and abilities.
“The whole world wants our know-how,” he said, citing conversations with people of influence during his official visits to India and Vietnam.
The role of a diplomat, he said, is to advance bilateral relations economically, as well as in other spheres. Every country wants to enhance its trade relations he said, but Israel is at an advantage with its artificial intelligence and cyber expertise, which was something that the ambassadors could always use as leverage.