LOS ANGELES – Prominent organizations and figures in the US Jewish community were caught off-guard on Monday afternoon when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a stunning about-face on an international agreement that would have sent thousands of African asylum- seekers from Israel to Western democracies.
Before Netanyahu announced his intention to suspend the deal, a litany of American-Jewish groups and persons hailed the arrangement brokered between Israel and the UN, describing it as a clear indication of the Jewish state’s “humane” and “compassionate” character. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said: “I think [Netanyahu] was right the first time.”Hier told The Jerusalem Post: “This was a great opportunity and I hope [Netanyahu] rethinks it, and that [he] sticks with his first inclination.”He said the deal had offered Israel a “viable solution” to the migrant crisis, which has plagued the government for several years.Both Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz and Hier, along with three other well-respected Jewish leaders, had urged Netanyahu to reconsider the original deportation plan in a March 15 letter, warning of the “incalculable damage” to Israel’s reputation should he press ahead with the policy.
No Gaza inquiry, Israeli Defense Minister Liberman says, April 1, 2018 (Reuters)
“We, a group of ardent Zionists, who have devoted our lives to defending the good name of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, write with urgent concern about the situation of the African asylum-seekers,” wrote the leaders who also included Abraham Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League; Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, a former chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council; and Rabbi Avi Weiss, a longtime activist and rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York.The Anti-Defamation League did not hide their disappointment with Netanyahu’s back-pedal.“We are disappointed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pulled back on implementing the deal announced earlier today on African asylum-seekers,” an ADL representative said. “We urge him to move ahead and implement the original UN plan. There’s no other alternative but to find an ethical and humane approach to resettle with the tens of thousands of refugees whose lives hang in the balance.”
15,000 protest the deportation of African migrants in south Tel Aviv, February 24, 2018 (Rebecca Montag)