On April 24, 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that he will not be able to force Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to leave Israel for Rwanda, Uganda or their countries of origin. However, he vowed to force them into detention centers in Israel.

Netanyahu’s reversal is the result of hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Jews around the world standing up to insist that Israel fulfill its responsibility toward those fleeing torture, slavery, and war. These activists included the 1,000 T’ruah rabbis who wrote to Netanyahu demanding that he stop the deportations, and the rabbis who delivered letters to 10 embassies and consulates in the United States and Canada.

Earlier in April, the Israeli government had reached a deal with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to resettle half of the asylum seekers in “western countries” — and to allow the rest to stay. However, within hours of the announcement,  Netanyahu, caving to right-wing pressure, said that he would suspend the deal.

T’ruah joined many other Jewish organizations in issuing an open letter to the prime minister protesting this decision; the letter can be found here.

On November 27, 2017, the Israeli government announced it would force these approximately 38,000 refugees to leave Israel or face indefinite jail time. This decision is immoral: A country that was founded by refugees and that played a leading role in the writing, ratification, and adoption of the International Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951) should not flagrantly disregard its responsibilities toward refugees and asylum seekers. T’ruah’s statement condemning this decision is here.

T’ruah advocates for Israel to institute a program of verifying asylum claims as other countries do, and in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention. Today, there are approximately 38,000 asylum seekers in Israel, primarily fleeing mandatory lifetime conscription in Eritrea or violence in South Sudan. Instead of hearing asylum claims, per international law, Israel instead incarcerates and deports these asylum seekers. As a result, Israel holds the unfortunate distinction of having the lowest refugee approval rate in the developed world.

A community of fewer than 40,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, a country of 7.9 million, does not threaten the Jewish character of the state.  A far greater threat to the Jewish character of the state is xenophobic rhetoric, and a failure to follow the Jewish imperative to protect and care for the gerim—the landless sojourners who seek refuge among us—especially when these sojourners have escaped forced military service, torture, and crimes against humanity in Eritrea and Sudan.

T’ruah partners with a range of Israeli NGOs to advocate for the right of these asylum seekers, as well as being the fiscal sponsor for Right Now, a coalition of American and Israeli activists working on this issue.

For more information, see HIAS’s Talking Points on Asylum Seekers in Israel.

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