Why should we care?

This country has right to deny entry, insist on departure of economic migrants but it cannot turn its back on those escaping genocide.

Africans protest 311 (photo credit: AP)
Africans protest 311
(photo credit: AP)
Afew years ago, former prime minister Ehud Olmert reportedly said at the Knesset when the issue came up of how to deal with Darfurians who had infiltrated into Israel “Ma lanu velahem [What have they got to do with us]?” Today, the national policy is to stop the infiltration of Africans from Egypt as drastically as possible.
Despite some official statements and the involvement of a UN refugee agency, there do not appear to be real efforts to differentiate between Africans who try to enter the country because they want to improve their living standards, and people who are escaping genocides or genocidal dangers.
This country has the right, of course, to deny entry and/or insist on the departure of the first group, provided it maintains humanitarian standards while doing so. Mainly two African groups are refugees from genocide: members of Muslim black tribes in Darfur who are being massacred by a murderous Sudanese government, and people from South Sudan, overwhelmingly Christians such as the Dinkas, whom the northern Islamicists had massacred in the past.
A genocide against the south that lasted 20 years, until 2005, when a so-called peace agreement was signed due to pressure from the US, Norway and others, claimed two million lives. The problem has spilled over to Israel, when recent racist protests were directed against all Africans.
NEXT MONTH, a referendum is supposed to be held in South Sudan to decide whether the southerners wish to be independent of the Khartoum murderers. A similar referendum was due to be held in Abyei, the oil-rich border region between north and south. The oil concessions, and the pipeline between them and Port Sudan (which is held by the north) are in considerable part owned by Chinese interests, and China therefore defends Khartoum.
The north, led by Hassan Omar al-Bashir, whom the International Criminal Court has accused of crimes against humanity and genocide, wants to prevent the secession of the two regions.
The south and Abyei are inhabited largely by black farming tribes that in past centuries had been prey to Arab slave traders. The autonomous south, now led by President Salva Kiir (a Dinka), has managed to arm itself in the face of a very probable war resulting from the almost certain decision to vote for independence. But the north is much better armed, with weapons coming in from Russia, China and elsewhere, and despite the fact that Sudan is in debt to foreigners to the tune of $38 billion.
The first target of the north is Abyei and its oil fields; the area is home mainly to black Ngok Dinka farmers.
Khartoum is supporting a large Beduin tribe, the Muslim Masseriyahs, who are fulfilling a function parallel to that of the infamous Janjaweed militias in Darfur, the main perpetrators of the genocide there, and who are attacking the Ngok Dinka even now.
Two genocides, one in Darfur and one that is an immediate threat in the south, are the source of the desire to escape to any possible haven.
The West, and the African Union’s committee dealing with the Sudanese crisis, under the chairmanship of ex-South African prime minister Thabo Mbeki, is in effect yielding to the Khartoum dictatorship.
The north is developing a close relationship with Iran, and is reported to facilitate arms shipments to Hamas, despite it close relations with the anti-Iranian Arab League.
Difficult though it is, Israel should differentiate between African economic migrants (including some from Northern Sudan) and people fleeing from genocide and/or opposed to the Khartoum government. The latter should be fully accepted as legal asylum seekers.
Such a policy would befit a country that claims to act as a beacon of Western values. Why should we, as Jews, care? Does one really have to answer that question, 65 years after the end of the horror?
The writer is academic adviser to Yad Vashem and author of numerous books about the Holocaust.