The decision last week by the Jerusalem District Court to issue an injunction
postponing the deportation of approximately 1,000 South Sudanese from Israel
until at least April 15 has brought the vexed issue of illegal immigration back
to the national agenda.
The sensitive problem of how to deal with the
ever-increasing number of refugees and illegal immigrants arriving in Israel
has, as with so many concerns, roused the country’s spiritual leaders to take to
their pulpits to proffer a religious perspective on the issue.
people of Israel brought the concept of compassion into the world,” said Achiad
Ettinger, rabbi of the Beit Shapira Synagogue in south Tel Aviv, where large
numbers of asylum seekers have ended up. “We are noted for our compassion even
by our enemies; Hitler specifically pointed out that we introduced such
concepts, and they hated us for it.”
“But excessive compassion can also
have negative consequences. We have many of our own vulnerable people who
we need to help and absorbing these illegal immigrants entails huge financial
obligations,” Ettinger told The Jerusalem Post.
“From a demographic,
economic and security perspective we just can’t absorb these numbers of people
coming in – and we have to return them either to where they came from or to
Refugees, Ettinger continued, should be treated
humanely and provided with food and shelter, but nevertheless
According to government figures, there are currently about
45,000 people who arrived in Israel illegally, 61 percent from troubled Eritrea,
25% from Sudan and the rest from other sub-Saharan states.
There are also
nearly 90,000 legal migrant workers in the country along with 95,000 foreign
workers who entered legally but whose visas have now expired.
Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, described the challenge
of dealing with refugees and immigrants as “the most important moral test for
The State of Israel, he said, like all other states in the
Western world, has to develop immigration policies and take necessary steps to
secure its borders.
“It’s okay to have strict immigration policies and to
protect your borders,” said Kariv. “But it is not right for us to bring in
migrant workers in order to energize and develop the local economy, and then
close our eyes to those who use this cheap labor to make easy profits and deny
these workers their basic rights.”
“They are human beings who, aside from
building our cities and cleaning our homes, have cultural, social and spiritual
needs, fall in love and bring children into this world. We need to
Regarding refugees and asylum seekers, Kariv is even
Israel – as a Jewish and democratic state that is
cognizant of its past – cannot close its borders to asylum seekers and put them
at risk by sending them back to their home countries where the political
situation is not stable, he said.
Refugees need to be given temporary
residence permits and allowed to work, earn a living, live in dignity and enjoy
other basic human rights, Kariv continued.
“The people from South Sudan
cannot be sent back at the moment because of the current instability there, and
Israel needs to follow the guidelines of international organizations on this
issue,” Kariv asserted, in reference to a statement by the UN chief of
humanitarian affairs in February that conflict, poverty and food insecurity are
creating severe humanitarian problems in the country that are likely to
Kariv denied that there is any demographic threat to the Jewish
majority in permitting those who have refugee status to stay in the
“This notion is an attempt to frighten the Israeli public and is
simply the racist interpretation a number of politicians give to the concept of
a Jewish state. When you have more than 6.5 million Jews in Israel, allowing a
few thousand refugees to be integrated into Israeli society is not a threat. By
doing it, I believe we strengthen the Jewish character of the state, not weaken
“It’s not enough to have a Jewish majority,” continued Kariv. “The
state’s policies and behavior need to reflect the values of our tradition and
the lessons we learned through our own history.”
Rabbi Benny Lau, a
prominent national-religious figure and rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in south
Jerusalem, is also adamant that genuine refugees seeking asylum from
life-threatening situations in their homelands should be afforded protection and
shelter – and shielded from any attempts to deport them.
But he also
believes that stringent immigration laws and practices need to be established to
halt the tide of illegal immigrants arriving in the country.
borders and allowing anyone who so wishes to come in will destroy the country.
The State of Israel simply won’t exist any more,” he told the Post.
someone gets into the country, however, there is a responsibility to provide
them with food, health services, education and all other needs, Lau
“What we must do as a Jewish society is design policies according
to the Torah, which recognize the foreigner who lives among us as a human being
with his own identity,” he said.
“If we do so we will continue to
cultivate the vision of a nation-state that believes all men are created in the
image of God.”