Taking in African refugees is a privilege

The debate about African migrants in Israel kicked off as early as 2005 when asylum seekers began making the treacherous journey through the Sinai desert into Israel.

January 9, 2018 22:44
4 minute read.
African migrants gesture behind a fence during a protest against Israel's detention policy towards t

African migrants gesture behind a fence during a protest against Israel's detention policy towards them. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)


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We on the political Right are so passionate about protecting the Jewish character of the state of Israel that we readily stand and fight, often quite literally, against any perceived threat. It is a value that is ingrained in us, into our cores. It is the Jewish state, after all. If we lose our majority here, we will become a state like any other, and we will have lost the war.

The value guides our every political stance. It defines our views on immigration, on Palestinian refugees, on conversion and many other issues. For a long time, it defined my own view on the issue of African migrants in Israel. But as you may have guessed by now, my stance has changed on that issue.

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In this article I’d like to try to explain how and why this change occurred, with the hope that you too might be open to the idea that we should not deport the migrants currently residing in Israel.

The debate about African migrants in Israel kicked off as early as 2005 when asylum seekers began making the treacherous journey through the Sinai desert into Israel. Fewer than 500 came that year. But the trickle quickly became a flood, and just a few years later thousands of Africans had completed the journey. In 2011 alone, more than 17,000 Africans crossed illegally into Israel.

With no end in sight and a constant stream of non-Jews entering the country, many questioned how tiny Israel would continue to be a home to its citizens. As much as the Left hates to admit it, Israel’s “Jewishness” is a legitimate priority for many who live here. So when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked then about Africans “threatening the character of the Jewish state,” I and many others like me listened.

But in 2013, Netanyahu oversaw the completion of a high border fence along the 245 km. frontier with the Sinai that all but stopped the flow of African migrants into Israel. That year, just 43 migrants crossed into Israel, and only 21 the year after that. From then on, it became clear to me that there was no longer a threat of migrants overrunning the country and eroding its cultural and religious character.

But what of the migrants that had already come? There are now an estimated 38,000 Africans living here illegally. That is 0.4% of the total population of the Israel, and 0.57% of the country’s Jewish population. An honest analysis of these numbers must lead anyone to conclude that African migrants currently living in Israel are not a threat to the Jewish character of the state.

Another factor that led to my changing my mind on this issue was actually meeting the migrants. In late 2016 I began volunteering at the Schoolhouse, a wonderful apolitical organization dedicated to educating the African migrant community in Israel. Even then, I arrived with the traditional Rightist mentality. I thought I would do what I could to help them develop until our government could find a suitable way to deport them.

It did not take long for my objections to melt away. I cannot describe how kind and gentle the people I met are, how thirsty they are for marketable skills and knowledge, and how much they long to be accepted into our society.

My intellectual/political stance on the issue was confronted violently by simple human interaction. These are good people who want to improve their lives and those of their families and loved ones.

Though my opinions on this issue have changed, I don’t conform to the traditional Leftist thought on the issue.

The mainstream Left frames this issue in terms of a moral obligation. They believe it is somehow our duty to care for these people by virtue of them being human and us being in a position to help. This duty, in their mind, transcends any political reservations we might have about the character of the country, or any economic reservations we might have about the costs of integrating this poor, uneducated population into our society.

I remember discussing this issue with a friend last year. I asked her: theoretically, if there were so many refugees at our doorstep that we would lose our Jewish majority in this country, would you still take them in?

She said yes.

Do you remember when I said that we on the political Right are passionate about protecting the Jewish character of the state? It may be because those on the Left are so willing to forfeit it.

But there is a middle ground.

I’ve come to the realization that although it is not our duty to take in these refugees, it is our privilege. Adding another 38,000 migrants will not threaten the character of our country; it will enrich it.

And if you’re still not convinced, I want to encourage you to visit the Schoolhouse. Sit in on a class. It will cost you nothing more than an hour of your life.

Then tell me you still want to deport them. I dare you.

The author holds an MBA from the University of British Columbia. After making aliya in 2009, he served as a non-commissioned officer in the IDF’s Strategic Division.

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