We at T’ruah are relieved by the news, announced this week, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be able to deport the approximately 38,000 African asylum seekers seeking refuge in Israel.
The cancellation of the deportation 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.
The asylum seekers who have come to Israel are escaping torture, enslavement and war. We are angered by reports that many of those who Israel previously deported to Africa have already suffered rape, robbery, torture, and human trafficking.
As a nation founded by refugees, and whose early leaders helped to craft the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel must not deport those from Sudan and Eritrea who are seeking asylum within its borders. As victims and survivors of the attempted genocide of our people, we Jews know far too well what happens when the world closes its doors to those forced to flee their homes.
We call on Netanyahu to abandon undemocratic attempts to override Israel’s Supreme Court in order to re-open detention centers, and instead to pursue a long-term solution that will include certifying asylum claims, and allowing the asylum seekers to pursue work opportunities throughout Israel.
We urge the Israeli government to comply with its international responsibilities as spelled out in the International Convention on the Status of Refugees. This includes providing asylum seekers a fair chance to file applications for refugee status, and refraining from deporting asylum seekers to countries that cannot guarantee their safety. This also entails examining these applications in an effective, fair, transparent, and impartial manner.
The Torah teaches, “The ger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were gerim in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). Our own experience of slavery and liberation, and our own experience as refugees, compel us to act with mercy and justice toward those seeking refuge among us.