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UJS urges Israeli government to change policy on deporting migrants

Open letter to ambassador Mark Regev stresses student's love of Israel, but calls government's deportation policy 'a betrayal of values we hold dear'

    The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) has published an open letter to Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, “imploring” the Israeli government to reverse its decision to deport thousands of African asylum seekers.

    The open letter, which was published on the UJS’s website this afternoon, is titled Ve’ahav’ta lere’acha ka’mocha, the Jewish concept of loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

    The UJS representatives describe themselves as “immensely proud” of their Jewish homeland as well as of “the State of Israel’s wondrous achievements and contributions to the world.”

    They add: “To have a Jewish homeland after 2,000 years in exile is nothing short of miraculous. That this state is a beacon of freedom and democracy in a region too often marred by terror and tyranny, where Jewish values are brought to life and held in high esteem, only furthers the achievement. We advocate for, defend and support our Jewish homeland, and we share a message of peace and inclusion with the world.

    “However, the recent announcement to deport asylum seekers that crossed into Israel from 2005-2012 is a betrayal of these values we hold dear. They came to Israel because they knew it was a beacon of freedom and democracy, a country whose people understand how vital it is to protect those fleeing persecution and death in their country of origin.”

    Under a plan passed by the Israeli Knesset, tens of thousands of asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa could be deported from the country in a few weeks’ time, to Rwanda and Uganda.

    “For asylum seekers to be called ‘infiltrators’ and to face imminent deportation is a smear on Israel’s name,” the letter continues. 

    “We are taught Ve’ahav’ta lere’acha ka’mocha, to love your neighbour as yourself. Israeli field hospitals live up to this mantra across the world, from treating injured Syrians in the Golan to earthquake survivors in Nepal and Haiti. Yet this guiding principle has been forgotten behind the perimeter fences of Holot [migrant detention centre] and now the planned expulsion of tens of thousands of asylum seekers.

    “We, the British diaspora, are proud of the modern miracle that is Israel. We are proud that the Jewish state is guided by Jewish values. And that is why we cannot stand silently by whilst the Israel we love reneges not only on its commitments under the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, but also on its commitments to the values it claims to embody.

    “We implore the Israeli government to reverse this decision, showing the Israeli government values the Jewish diaspora and wishes to uphold the principles on which our homeland was built.”

    Last month, Josh Holt, the president of UJS, was among a number of members of the Board of Deputies who criticised Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board, for not publicly coming out against the Israeli government’s deportation  policy.

    Mr Holt described the planned deportations as being “against Jewish values, irrefutably.

    “The silence from the leadership of this community is saddening,” he continued.

    “And it is saddening to me, as president of the democratic student body of the UK Jewish community, to not be able to get behind the leadership of my community in facing this.”

    In conjunction with the open letter to the Israeli ambassador, UJS, which represents around eight and a half thousand Jewish students in the UK and Ireland, also announced that it would be launching the Mensch initiative, “encouraging local-scale activism to address the UK’s support of refugees.”

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