Rattling the Cage: How to lose hearts and minds

Dragging 1,000 Sudanese refugees back across the border will stick with US Jews and Evangelicals.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Here's what's going to happen: Israel is going to load hundreds and hundreds of Sudanese refugees from genocide onto buses, drive them to the Egyptian border and send them packing. The refugees, fearing even worse brutality in Egypt than what they endured before escaping, will not go quietly. The men are going to be shouting, the women and children are going to be sobbing. All the major foreign media in Israel will be there. Hundreds of millions of people the world over will watch these scenes on TV and read about them in newspapers. The first step in this operation took place this week: The Israeli government opened the Negev prison "campsite," where all 1,000 or so Sudanese slated for deportation will soon be kept. Within a few months, maybe less, they will be sent back across the Egyptian border. Forget morality for a moment, forget what it will do to the refugees; think of what it will do to Israel. To Israel's image. And if you think Israel's enemies, the anti-Semites of the world, will have a field day with this incredibly dramatic news story, you're of course right - but that's not going to be the real damage Israel suffers. NO, THE real damage to Israel's image will not be done in the eyes of its enemies, but in the eyes of its friends. In the eyes of its best friends, its most important allies: American Jews and evangelical Christians. American Jews have become identified with the cause of the refugees from the Sudanese region of Darfur; this is why the Olmert government plans to keep at least some of the roughly 250 Darfurian refugees who fled Egypt for Israel. The government and its American Jewish mouthpieces will milk this paltry gesture for all it's worth - but they will be hard put explaining to American Jews why Israel is deporting 1,000 other Sudanese refugees who survived genocides as bad and worse than the one in Darfur. These are the refugees from southern Sudan and the country's Nuba Mountains. Like the Darfurians, they saw their villages burned and their families killed by Sudanese Arab militias. Like the Darfurians, they fled Sudan for Egypt, where they saw their relatives and friends killed by Egyptian police, and where they were beaten, imprisoned and humiliated for being black. Like the Darfurians, these lesser-known Sudanese refugees risked their lives to cross the Sinai to Israel, knowing that if they were caught by Egyptian soldiers they would be assaulted or killed. IF ISRAEL drags 1,000 of these people back across the Egyptian border, it will stick in the minds of American Jews. The self-congratulations offered by Israel's spokesmen over the "humanitarianism" shown to a couple of hundred Darfurians will be swallowed up by those haunting images from the border. As for the Christian evangelists, they will continue to love Israel as the Holy Land, but they will have a difficult time forgiving what the people of Israel did to the neediest of world Christianity. Some 700 of the 1,000 soon-to-be-deportees are Christians from southern Sudan, where two million people were murdered by Arab Muslims. Yet Israel is going to send these Christians back to Egypt, an Arab Muslim country that, while not slaughtering them en masse, made their lives an honest-to-God nightmare. Imagine evangelical Christian families watching that on TV. And if Israel's image abroad doesn't concern you, imagine what these scenes will do to the self-image of so many Israelis, especially the ones now coming of age. And over what? Over 1,000 refugees. For some reason, the Olmert government thinks that if it takes in a couple of hundred refugees, it will be no problem, it may even be a PR triumph - but if it takes in 1,200, then millions more will come pouring over the border from Egypt and that'll be the end of the Jewish state. Two hundred refugees are a mitzva, 1,200 are doomsday. This is what passes in Israel for strategic thinking. THEN THERE'S the fear of al-Qaida slipping in a ringer or two among the refugees, and the next thing you know the Azrieli Towers will come crashing down. It doesn't seem to matter that not one of the 1,200 Sudanese refugees here has been found by the police, IDF or Shin Bet to be a security risk. Instead, they have been found to be very well-behaved prisoners and dutiful hotel employees. The US has taken in about 20,000 Sudanese refugees, while other Western countries targeted by al-Qaida have absorbed tens of thousands more. None of them have turned out to be terrorists. But that doesn't matter to Israel, either. The plain truth is that we can take in those 1,000 refugees from southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. We can even take in thousands more. For the last 20 years, ever since the first intifada, Israel has been home to hundreds of thousands of foreign workers; there are now about 160,000 in the country, including some 60,000 who are here illegally. These people are "economic refugees," while the Sudanese here are refugees from genocide. If the government is so afraid for Israel's Jewish character, why can't it deport more foreign laborers - not only "illegals" but "legals" as well - and let an equal number of the Sudanese take their place? Why can't the Sudanese work on Israeli farms, construction sites, in hotels and other workplaces? IF WE SENT the Thai workers back to Thailand, the Chinese workers back to China, or the Romanian workers back to Romania, they'd suffer economically. But if we send the Sudanese refugees back to Egypt - after they've sought asylum in Israel and complained to the UN and the international media about how the Egyptians treated them - then God help them. Whatever lies it tells about trusting Egyptian promises, the Olmert government knows what an inhumane act it's planning. Everyone familiar with this story knows. And if the government actually goes through with it, the rest of the world will know, too - above all, Jews and Christians who find it hard to believe Israel would do such a thing. But when they see and hear those 1,000 Sudanese being forced to cross the border back to Egypt, those Jews and Christians will believe it. Their image of Israel will become tarnished badly. To a lesser or greater degree, they'll become alienated from this country. And this country will have given them damn good reason to be.