There has been more debate recently over how to address the situation of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers in Israel. Currently, policy is to detain them (in often inhumane conditions) and sometimes even deport them back to the place of origin (even if such places are harmful). The fear is that these migrants will be taking jobs from native Israelis, are causing crime waves to occur in a country where the crime rate is relatively low, and will water down the unique Jewish-majority demography of Israel. High taxes and the construction of more border walls and fences are used to dissuade more from coming and convince the "growing cancer" of asylum seekers already in Israel to leave. This is shameful and not strategic. While criminals should be deported and immigration concerns should be heard, the often cruel response by Israel towards refugees from eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia should be stopped and given major reforms. 

Israel's 1948 founding is remarkable and notable for two major reasons. The first is that an indigenous people, for the first time in history, had managed to regain sovereignty in its own land. The second is that it was made up almost entirely of immigrants, many who had fled persecution, murder, and poverty. The tired, the poor, the yearning masses of Jews making aliyah came from a post-Holocaust Europe, which had been destroyed, impoverished, and had robbed the Jews of their belongings prior to deportations to the death camps. They fled brutal and murderous Nazi-like regimes in the Arab World, having been tortured, raped, and stolen from. They came from east Africa, having faced discrimination and famine alike; from Iran, which turned from ally to enemy over night; and from the Soviet Union, which had persecuted Jews and had no tolerance for religion. For years, there were cultural tensions between the Mizrahi-Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities in Israel--to some degree, this still continues. However, with the high rate of intermarriage and the passing of time, these groups have mixed more and generated more of a specific and collective Israeli identity. Most other countries with large immigrant populations have not been as successful in merging cultures and creating cohesive and inclusive national identities. But in modern times, Israel, which is in many a ways a model example of nation-building and coexistence, is now falling behind on the issue of refugees. 



Israel has in the past taken in refugees from perilous situations, and there are certainly many migrants in Israel currently who have been genuinely cared for. It has even allowed 100 orphans from Syria, an adversary of the Jewish state, to find refuge in Israel. Israel also is usually the first among all nations to respond to natural disasters. These are examples of wonderful ways in which the Jewish state has contributed to assisting humanity and bettering the world. But now, it is increasingly reminiscent of countries that turned Jews away from their shores despite the Holocaust. While eastern European and Asian migrants are mainly coming for economic reasons, South Sudanese refugees are fleeing poverty, famine and civil war, having already suffered for years from genocide. Others are escaping outbreaks of violence and terror in Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The same kind of terror that forced Jews away from lands they inhabited for centuries has been inflicted upon thousands in Africa. Particularly because Jews shared similar experiences years ago, it should be our duty to assist and care for many of these refugees. In addition, Israel is deepening its ties with many nations in Africa, trying to turn the tide in voting patters at the United Nations. By demonstrating compassion and assisting these refugees, Israel could automatically win hearts and minds throughout much of Africa. A similar reaction could be expected in Asian and eastern European countries (also regions where Israel is expanding its ties) if Israel helps migrants from these nations. As traditional Western allies of the Jewish state look inward or become increasingly hostile, Israel needs to reorient its ties and attention to emerging Third World countries if it is to win the diplomatic battle with the Palestinians and economically develop further. Similarly, some of these countries face the same kind of threats (largely Islamic terrorism) that Israel does, and common ties and cooperation against these threats could benefit both sides. Instead, controversial, insensitive, and sometimes racist rhetoric is often used about or hurled at these refugees. Many are promised a good life upon arrival, only to be detained, beaten, or deported to treacherous regions. Is it any wonder that these "emerging allies" are slow to embrace Israel more openly? Similarly, while Israel was in the past embraced by minority communities in the US and other Western countries, now they shun and condemn it. 


For decades, Arab countries and the Palestinians themselves have been trying to paint a picture to the Third World of Israel as a colonial state, made in the mold of the British who wrote the Balfour Declaration and had once themselves "occupied Palestine." Just as Europeans had stolen land and resources from Africa and slaughtered independence-minded peoples in Asia, Israel was building settlements, restricting movement, and constructing walls throughout the Palestinian Territories. To the naked eye, this could seem to be the truth (although the Middle East conflict is much more complex). Despite the history of Arab conquerers in the region and their poor treatment of Black Africans and other minorities, the Arab countries formed a post-colonial bond with newly-independent sub-Saharan and Asian states. And with Israel's treatment of Third World migrants and refugees, governments and peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere are reminded of the discrimination and injustice they suffered under European colonial rule.  The poor treatment of African Jews and Third World refugees is undoing all of the progress in relations that Israel has been building for years with developing countries. While it is important for the Jewish state to protect itself and retain its demographic qualities, it's neither strategically smart nor ethical for Israel to refuse many of these refugees, treat them poorly, or imprison them. In fact, the refugees and migrants are part of the solution to securing Israel. 

As we just witnessed tragically the other day, Palestinian laborers in Jewish settlements and Israel on occasion attack, wound, or kill innocent people. While some of these laborers may not be violent or harbor any ill intentions towards Israel and Jews, it is no secret that the Palestinian population in general has negative and often violent feelings for the Jewish state. Allowing laborers from the Territories to work in Israel is dangerous and irresponsible. Moreover, as the proclaimed "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" and a government that supposedly supports a two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority must learn to provide jobs to its own people rather than relying on international aid or Israeli employment to do so. If ordinary Palestinians want an economically secure future, they must demand it from their own government, not Israel. Furthermore, Israel has been castigated by many on the far-left for a "cruelty" of having Palestinians construct Jewish settlements on what they view as their land. Ending the employment of Palestinians can refute this view, as well as demonstrate to the world that the Palestinians must learn to provide for themselves if they are to become an independent state. While this may spark outcry initially, the international community (which is already reducing aid to Ramallah) will come to understand this position.

Jerusalem would save billions of dollars if it began cutting aid to and employment for Palestinians, and could use much of this to help alleviate some of the economic burdens on the state. Moreover, Israel could replace the Palestinian laborers with economic migrants and refugees from developing countries. Doing so is ethical, and would demonstrate Israel's generosity in providing jobs to vulnerable people while still achieving its objectives and pressuring the Palestinians. It would also disprove the image of Israel as a colonial or racist country. Many of these refugees are no danger to ordinary Israelis or the country itself. Most must have had a positive image of the country if they were seeking refuge there, and many dearly wish to become citizens or even convert to Judaism. By and large, they do not come from an anti-Zionist or Muslim-extremist background. Nearly all are looking for jobs, especially the jobs native Israelis don't want. Temporary housing can be provided for thousands of them near the settlements or neighborhoods they would be building. This policy should be seriously discussed within Israel. But crime rates would be alleviated by the availability of jobs. And criminals among the migrant population (who generally do not make up the majority) should be deported, provided it is not to their dangerous country of origin. And to protect its demography, Israel should arrange a deal with Canada to accept a large number of these refugees, as Ottawa desires moreimmigration. 


As the West becomes more critical of Jerusalem's policies and turns inward, it's imperative that Israel embrace its eastern and Third World roots by reaching out to developing countries and forming strong bonds in their capitals. But undoing decades of anti-Zionist and Arabist propaganda is a titanic task, and will take a great deal of dedication over a long period of time. Israel can make a good start by tackling issues of discrimination more enthusiastically and providing more opportunities for its African Jewish population. It can continue by reforming its refugee and migrant policy and replacing potentially hostile Palestinian laborers (who should be pressured to demand more from their government) with impoverished migrants desperately looking for a job. Many of these migrants wish to return home or move to other states--given them jobs to save up can help them achieve these goals and help retain Israel's Jewish character. Also, Israel can potentially and peacefully facilitate a transfer of many migrants to Canada. At the top, the leadership in Jerusalem can demonstrate to the Israeli people that it has preserved its security and demographic balance in one fell swoop, while improving Israel's image globally. 
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