Rabbis call on Israel not to deport African asylum-seekers

The rabbis called on Mr Netanyahu to allow asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea to stay in Israel.


Rabbis from countries around the world have urged Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abort plans to deport African migrants to Rwanda.

Around 750 ministers, including 60 from Britain, signed a letter protesting at the deportations. A delegation is due to deliver the letter to the Israeli embassy in London on Wednesday.

The rabbis called on Mr Netanyahu to allow asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea to stay in Israel.

They said: “As a country founded by refugees, and whose early leaders helped to craft the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel must not deport those seeking asylum within its borders.

“We Jews know far too well what happens when the world closes its doors to those forced to flee their homes.”

Liberal Judaism's Rabbi Charley Baginsky, set up the meeting for the group to express their concerns directly to Israel's UK ambassador, Mark Regev.

She said: "As Progressive Jews we have committed much time, energy and resources to supporting refugees in this country.

"As a committed Zionist movement it is equally our responsibility to speak up and ensure our voice is heard when we feel the Israeli government is not acting in the way we expect it to. A country built by many people fleeing their homelands needs to show compassion to those who enter her seeking refuge."

Other British signatories included Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Mason of Muswell Hill United Synagogue.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner, said: "Ensuring the safety of refugees is an inherently Jewish value. On reaching Israel, asylum seekers should be met with compassion and fairness, and not with an impossible ultimatum."

Rabbi Wittenberg, added: "I find it hard to describe how terrible it would be if Israel deported against their will refugees who have fled persecution and horror. It would be utterly shaming for us all. We must do everything to assist the many voices in Israel passionately opposed to this."

The rabbis said it was Israel’s responsibility to protect asylum seekers who are escaping torture, enslavement, and war.

“We are angered by reports that many of those who have been deported to Africa have already suffered rape, robbery, torture, and human trafficking.

“We urge your government to start living up to Israel’s 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 that your government begin to examine these applications in an effective, fair, transparent, and impartial manner,” they wrote.

The rabbis reminded Mr Netanyahu of the Jewish community’s own experience of slavery and experience as refugees, which it said meant it had to act with mercy and justice toward those seeking refuge.

“Please affirm these Jewish values, as well as Israel’s international commitments, by stopping the deportations,” it said.

Tens of thousands of African migrants arrived in Israel until 2012, when a new border fence with Egypt cut off smuggling routes from Sinai.

Mr Netanyahu has made their deportation a priority in recent months, with the policy popular with his voter base.

A controversial plan to offer $3,500 (£2,454) in cash to each of the estimated 35,000 African migrants in return for voluntarily leaving the country was approved by the cabinet last month.

Those who take the money would be sent to Rwanda, irrespective of whether it is their home country, while anyone who refuses will face an indefinite jail term.

Rwanda will reportedly receive $5,000 (£3,500) for each migrant it accepts, although the country subsequently said it would not accept migrants deported against their will.

Jcore director Edie Friedman said: "Under the new policies, many African asylum seekers will have to decide between deportation to countries where their lives may be in danger, or risk indefinite imprisonment in Israel.

"We expect that this is an issue that may concern many of our supporters. JCORE is a UK charity focussed on UK issues. However, as a Jewish charity concerned with the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, we are deeply concerned by the proposed actions of the Israeli government on this issue.  We urge an immediate re-think."



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