This is a guest post by Israelinurse
Once again Seth Freedman gropes around for any available stick with which to beat Israel in his latest piece on CiF.
“In a country created as a refuge for a people towards whom the rest of the world turned their back less than a century ago, it is telling that today’s crop of leaders refuse to practise [sic] what they preach.”
By “today’s crop of leaders” we can only assume that Freedman intends to tell us that a government too right-wing for his tastes is falling short of moral obligations to provide a safe haven for refugees and migrants.
During my early days in Israel I lived in Be’er Sheva. Menachem Begin’s Rightist government had recently ended decades of left-wing monopoly of Israel’s political scene and many Leftists were predicting doom and gloom. Begin’s first official act as Prime Minister was to grant asylum and immediate full Israeli citizenship to 66 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ rescued in 1977 by a passing Israeli ship. From 1977 to 1979 around 300 Vietnamese refugees made their home in Israel and some of them were my neighbours.
Also in 1977, Begin managed to get permission from the Ethiopian authorities for the first 200 Jews to be airlifted to Israel and some of them became my neighbours too. Humanitarian attitudes towards people in need are obviously not a prerogative of the Left alone.
In the eyes of the world, many of those Jews who made their way to Israel do not register as refugees, although they certainly should.
75,833 Iranians, 4,116 Afghanis, 4,051 Lebanese, 9,526 Syrians, 130,992 Iraqis, 50,636 Yemenites, 66,470 Ethiopians, 35,814 Libyans, 37,622 Egyptians, 269,649 Morroccans, 26,070 Algerians and 54,348 Tunisians found refuge in Israel when life in their native countries became impossible.
Freedman maliciously ignores these people’s refugee status when he adds in the comment thread that “Israel’s previous record when it comes to creating a refugee problem and discriminating against those not of Jewish extraction is a major stain on the state and the ongoing apathy-cum-antagonism towards the African asylum seekers only adds fuel to the fire”.
Neither must we forget the refugees from post-war Europe, the Lebanese Christians from South Lebanon, or the million strong migration from the countries of the former USSR in the early 1990s when communism collapsed. In fact Israel ranks fourth in the world’s top ten countries with the highest share of migrants as a percentage of the population at 39.6% (after the UAE, Kuwait and Singapore) having absorbed some 2,891,418 immigrants since 1948 and 482,857 even before the state’s establishment.
So if there is one subject about which Israel knows a thing or two, it’s absorbing migrants. This proud record however seems not to be good enough for Seth Freedman. He apparently wishes to absolve the UNHCR of its responsibility to find a permanent solution to the current problem of African refugees and expects Israel to take up the slack caused by the international community’s ineffectuality in Darfur and other African locations.
Some 17,000 African refugees already live in Israel, but two separate problems now present themselves. Both refugees from political and religious persecution and also economic migrants are now knocking at Israel’s door. Some of these people come from states hostile to Israel, presenting an obvious need for clarification of their status before any permanent refuge in Israel is granted.
Some estimates say that around one million Africans are currently making their way towards Israel. Can, and indeed should, a tiny state of 7 million people really be expected to absorb them all? Can Israel,with its severely limited natural resources and ever-decreasing territory (which the international community desires to make smaller) ignore the fact that due to the world-wide rise in antisemitism it may in the not too distant future have to provide a home for the other half of world Jewry which does not currently reside in Israel? According to Fortress Europe,
“Analysts and aid workers say that the flow of migrants from the Horn of Africa through Egypt to Israel has increased in recent months as it has become more difficult to travel on other northward routes such as via Libya, to Europe.”
“Eritreans are the single largest group of migrants attempting to cross into Israel from Egypt, although Ethiopians and Sudanese also make the trek.”
Seth Freedman accuses Israel of ignoring its obligations as a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is quite clear that the present pressure upon Israel in this field is a product of two factors. The failure of the international community to adequately address the acute problems of war, famine and drought in Africa has created a serious refugee problem. This is well recognised by Europe, which has quietly recruited Libya’s compliance in order to stem the flow of African refugees into the EU – ‘nimbyism’ on an international scale.
Israel has always prided itself upon its ability to stretch its resources to their absolute limit in order to provide for newcomers, however unexpected and urgent the situation was, because charity and helping out those less fortunate than ourselves really is one of Judaism’s defining features. Indeed Israel has donated considerable amounts of money to UNHCR refugee camps in Chad in order to help African refugees, but even Freedman must realise that to permit unlimited access to Israel for all African refugees is not feasible. It is simply not within Israel’s capabilities to solve this tragic humanitarian crisis alone. Sometimes, no matter how much we may wish to help others, we simply are not able to do so to the extent required.
Freedman knows this full well, but of course will never waste an opportunity to disparage Israel. Charity, Mr. Freedman, begins at home, and a more charitable attitude on your part towards your own country would certainly not come amiss.