The triumph of Passover values

The outcry from so many in civil society was across the political and religious spectrum.

CHILDREN OF African asylum seekers play on a Tel Aviv beach on Independence Day (photo credit: REUTERS)
CHILDREN OF African asylum seekers play on a Tel Aviv beach on Independence Day
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the annals of Jewish activism, never has the Jewish calendar been a more powerful ally.
The sweep of Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s 70th Independence Day – coupled with the massive amount of public pressure in Israel and throughout the Jewish world – were just too powerful against the immoral deportation policy.
The government lost the narrative in the first week of January of this year, when Holocaust survivors and their descendants came out against the deportation and were willing to open their homes to asylum-seekers through the Miklat Israel (Israel Sanctuary) movement.
Israel says to send 16,000 African migrants to Western countries, April 2, 2018 (Reuters)
To date, over 2,500 families and dozens of kibbutzim stepped forward to volunteer in this civil disobedience. The outcry from so many in civil society was across the political and religious spectrum, culminating in two massive rallies in the past two months.
The plan for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), of taking one asylum-seeker to a western country in exchange for one being given a long-term dignified protection in Israel, has been on the prime minister’s desk for some time, as I first reported in my New York Times op-ed “How Did Israel Become a Place of No Refuge?”
At that time, the government thought the public’s passion for justice and compassion would wane and that it would be able to proceed with the deportation or imprisonment plan unhindered, and thus ignored the plan.
But, in a testament to the power of Jewish values, the campaigns from so many quarters of Israeli and Jewish society increased. And the asylum-seekers themselves found their voices and came together alongside the Israeli and Jewish NGO communities.
The deal announced yesterday by the prime minister and the interior minister is good, but not great.
Close to 33,000 asylum-seekers will be safe, half in Israel and half in the west. We have to be vigilant now to make sure the government implements the deal fairly. The 90 cities, towns and kibbutzim who have stepped up to host people will now be asked to provide up to three months of room and board while small communities of asylum-seekers resettle around the country and away from south Tel Aviv.
Also, we have to protect men who are partners and fathers but not registered with the Interior Ministry, which has been historically a hostile body. Keeping families together needs to be a primary goal when the government picks and chooses who goes abroad and who stays. And those politicians on the right who opportunistically vilify the deal need to be ostracized for their racism and lies.
Since there are about 38,000 asylum-seekers, the question of about 5,000 others – mostly single males – is not fully resolved. We must ensure that those 5,000 human beings are not returned, even indirectly, to the refugee trail.
That is where Start-Up University for Refugees comes in, where these 5,000 people can be trained in the best Israeli agricultural, water and green energy technologies and skills and then be deployed as voluntary emissaries of Israeli know-how throughout Africa as part of the prime minister’s enlightened Africa strategy.
African countries will roll out the red carpet for these newly trained development professionals and offer them protected status and employment.
On the second night of Passover, my family joined with 50 African asylum-seekers and the Kol Haneshama community in Jerusalem for a “Freedom Seder” to help strengthen their resolve, provide hope, and to send a clear moral message to the government of Israel that deportation is not a moral option for the 38,000 seeking refuge in the Jewish state.
And today we experienced a Passover miracle, when God heard our cries and allowed us to overcome those willing to embitter the lives of the most vulnerable.
Rabbi Susan Silverman a co-founder of Miklat Israel, is an author and activist living in Jerusalem. She can be followed @RabbaSusan.