In recent years there has been sporadic but highly critical media commentary regarding Israel’s handling of the more than 40,000 African refugees that have traveled to the Jewish state in order to escape conflict and tyranny in their homelands. This commentary is often devoid of nuance and never offers an explanation for what another nation might do in a similar circumstance.

First, the background: between 2006 and 2013 there was a wave of individuals fleeing the severely troubled countries of Sudan, Eritrea, and the Congo. Those who survived the harrowing trek from their homelands to Israel’s borders, were brought to Tel Aviv.

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Once there, many of the newly arrived African nationals found jobs. Israeli universities began offering scholarships exclusively for African refugees. Some African refugees in Tel Aviv also became entrepreneurs - opening restaurants, daycare centers, clothing stores, and the first African owned bar. Sudanese and Eritrean culture became so prevalent in Tel Aviv that recently hundreds of Eritreans gathered in one of the city’s many parks to celebrate annual Eritrea Day, complete with songs, speeches, music, and food.


While the influx of refugees to the tiny Jewish state has not been without significant challenges, it’s no wonder the refugees chose to seek haven in Israel.

Israel has a long history of helping non-Jews in need. For example, Save a Child’s Heart performs life-saving heart surgeries in Israel on children from around the world, including Gaza, Syria, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Innovation Africa brings, “Israeli innovation to rural African villages, using solar energy to address the electricity needs of rural villages in seven African countries.” In February 2015 Gigawatt Global built Rwanda the largest solar field in East Africa. Mike Omeri, the chief coordinating spokesman of the Nigerian National Information Center, recently stated, “Israel has been a crucial and loyal ally in our fight against Boko Haram.” In the late 1960’s Israel was among the only nations that helped the Igbo of Nigeria who were being annihilated by their own government. And Menachem Begin took in Vietnamese refugees when the world turned a blind eye to their plight. As Prime Minister Begin stated in 1977:

We never have forgotten the boat with 900 Jews, the St. Louis, having left Germany in the last weeks before the Second World War… traveling from harbor to harbor, from country to country, crying out for refuge. They were refused… Therefore it was natural… to give those people a haven in the Land of Israel.

Yet, there remains the unresolved crisis of the current African refugees’ legal status, some of whom reside in a detention center. Israel is hardly the first democratic country to contend with the challenges associated with undocumented immigrants; that’s not news. The real story is why these people felt the need to flee. But none-the-less, one finds more stories focused on Israel’s challenges in dealing with the refugee influx than the events that led to this situation.

Let’s put it in perspective: Sudan’s dictator is wanted by the International Criminal Court. Eritrea, ruled by the same leader since 1993, is saddled with a corrupt government that assesses an immoral “Diaspora Tax” on monies sent home from Eritrean nationals. Millions of Congolese have lost their lives as a result of that country's seemingly never-ending civil war. Yet for Israel’s critics, millions of dead and displaced Africans is not the real story; the real story is how Israel is dealing with a massive influx of refugees - some of whom, incidentally, are citizens of a nation officially at war with the Jewish state.

As my friend and Zimbabwean author Masimba Musodza wrote, “The situation of African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel is being used as a stick with which to beat up the Zionist state and draw a large population that would otherwise be indifferent to events in the Middle East into active condemnation (i.e., BDS) of Israel." 

Displaced Africans are being exploited in order to demonize the Jewish state. That’s not just a sin against Israel, but also against the very people for whom Israel’s detractors feign concern.

By Dumisani Washington

Pastor Dumisani Washington is the Diversity Outreach Coordinator for Christians United for Israel. 


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