The political storm over African migrants

Before you can discuss solutions to the problem of the African infiltrators, migrants, asylum seekers or refugees in Israel – call them what you want – you should know the facts. You are strongly encouraged to read about them here; but in summary there are about 38,000 people from various countries in Africa who crossed our Egyptian border illegally and want to stay in Israel. The government has tried to find a way to deport them that will be both effective and humane, but so far has been stymied at every turn.

The position of the government is that only a small number deserve refugee status, and the rest are illegal immigrants who should leave the country one way or another. The majority of Israelis (66% of Jews and 50% of Arabs) agree.

Initially, illegal migrants faced detention (they were allowed to work during the day, but required to return to a detention facility in the evening) or even imprisonment, in order to encourage them to leave. But Israel’s Supreme Court declared this policy illegal.

Since the majority of them cannot be deported to their home countries – for example, because they will be prosecuted for draft evasion (Eritrea) or for travelling to Israel with which a state of war exists (Sudan) – an agreement was reached with “third countries” (Rwanda and possibly Uganda) to accept them. The migrants and the destination countries would both receive payments, and the migrants’ exit would be “of their own free will,” even though both carrots and sticks would be deployed to encourage them.

Naturally, the migrants would prefer to stay in Israel. Their case was taken up by the Israeli Left, along with numerous international and foreign organizations such as Amnesty International, the European Union, the New Israel Fund, the Union for Reform Judaism (in the USA) and others. The Supreme Court froze the plan, and massive international pressure was applied to the government of Rwanda, which – embarrassed by what was portrayed as “enabling anti-black racism” – backed out.

PM Netanyahu blamed the New Israel Fund (NIF), an organization primarily based in the US but with an Israeli branch. According to the very reliable NGO Monitor, the NIF gives millions of dollars annually to groups promoting BDS, and engaging in incitement and demonization of Israel. In a Facebook post (Hebrew), Netanyahu wrote,

The central factor behind the European pressure on the government of Rwanda to withdraw from the agreement to take the infiltrators from Israel was the New Israel Fund.

The Fund is a foreign organization funded by foreign governments and forces hostile to Israel, such as the funds linked to George Soros. The primary objective of the Fund is to erase the Jewish character of Israel and turn it into a state of its citizens, on 1967 lines, next to a Jew-free Palestinian nation-state whose capital is Jerusalem…

I don’t know of any Western democracy, in particular the US, that would suffer for very long hostile activities financed by foreign powers, like those that have been going on here in Israel with the New Israel Fund for decades… [my tr.]

The PM then negotiated a deal with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The plan was that over five years some 16,000 migrants would be resettled in Western nations, while another 16,000 would get temporary residency in Israel. The ones that stayed would get job training and be dispersed around the country to relieve the pressure on South Tel Aviv. This time it was the Right that objected, and not just the extreme Right. For one thing, the resettlement of the migrants would take five years, and given the involvement of the UN, there are serious doubts that it would take place at all, or that more than a very few of them would actually go.

The remaining 16,000 would have a temporary status which, with the passage of time would certainly become permanent. Once people have established families and have Hebrew-speaking children that know no other home, it becomes extremely painful (for everyone involved) to relocate them. Finally – and I think this is the most important consideration – such an arrangement makes Israel a desirable destination again for migrants.

Israel stopped the flow of migrants in part by building a fence along the Egyptian border, but also by making it difficult for them to get work, benefits and residency here. If that were not the case, no fence would keep them out. The new arrangement would make Israel a magnet again for migrants who knew that if they could get in they could stay or move on to Europe or North America.

As I write this (Wednesday), the PM has declared that the deal is off, and everything is being “rethought from the beginning.” The Left and the various foreign organizations that favored the deal are furious. Netanyahu is talking about passing a law permitting the imprisonment of those who have entered the country illegally (until they agree to leave “voluntarily”), with a clause saying that the Supreme Court cannot overturn it. I have no idea how this would play out, but it’s clear that the political storm won’t be over for a while.

So why is this so important? Why can’t a country with 8.5 million people fit some 38,000 new ones in somewhere?

First of all, there is the “magnet” argument. If Israel becomes a desirable destination, we will not be able to put limits on the flow. And 8 million is still a small country, with a housing shortage and a labor market that is getting increasingly sophisticated every day. The migrants are from cultures very different from the Jewish and Arab cultures that (uneasily) coexist in Israel. One can expect conflict, and that is borne out by the experience of South Tel Aviv.

Second, there is the problem of South Tel Aviv. 90% of the migrants have congregated there and have trapped the residents in what they call a living hell of crime, dirt and stress that they cannot escape. They can’t afford to move since their property is almost worthless. They can’t sleep at night because of noise or walk the streets without encountering human waste. The area has always been neglected, but the advent of the migrants has made it ten times worse. It is the obligation of the government to take care of its own people – first.

Third, and very important, is the struggle for a Zionist majority. Some will read this and immediately accuse me of racism. This is a misunderstanding of Zionism, which is not a belief in the superiority of Jews, or that they have some kind of special status in the world. It is fundamentally the idea that in order for the Jewish people to survive and thrive they must have a state of their own. Zionism asserts that living as a Diaspora  minority has been tried and it doesn’t work.

It should be obvious that in order for there to be a state of the Jewish people, it must have a Jewish majority. And if it is also a democracy, it must have a Zionist majority, because if it does not, then its elected representatives can decide that it will not be a state that exists for the Jewish people anymore, but rather a state like Canada or the US which is a state belonging to its inhabitants. The Left, and organizations like the New Israel Fund – as PM Netanyahu quite accurately points out – at least in theory believe that this is the only kind of state that is truly legitimate, and that a nation-state that exists on behalf of a specific people does not belong in the 21st century.

In practice, they look past all the dictatorships and monarchies, and the countries where people of the wrong religion or ethnicity (or sex!) are persecuted. They welcome the creation of yet another such state in “Palestine” while they focus all of their moral condemnations  on Israel.

And the controversy about the African migrants is an absolutely perfect vehicle for it. The migrants are black, so they can accuse Israel of racism, while ignoring the airlifts that have brought more than 125,000 black Ethiopian Jews to Israel as part of the realization of the Zionist dream of the Ingathering of the Exiles.

The government and a majority of Israeli citizens believe that absorbing the migrants and inviting more will strain the fabric of their society dangerously. At the end of the day, they are the ones  that live and work here, defend their nation, and pay the price of whatever happens in this tiny country.

They are the ones who get to decide – and not the representatives of the EU, Amnesty International, the Union for Reform Judaism, or the New Israel Fund’s donors.

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