Many Jews are now banned from entering Israel solely because of their ideological differences with the Israeli government. Ironically included among banned groups is the American Friends Service Committee, recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize for aiding Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL – Though the Israeli government is enjoying a time of nearly unprecedented cooperation with the current U.S. president and his administration, several recent stories have derailed its carefully honed image of a homeland for the Jewish people regardless of race, national origin or political persuasion.
Israel has long been a country that prides itself on welcoming all Jews and offering support to all refugees in conscience of the Jews’ own plight during the Second World War. But a series of damaging stories have shown the current government taking a hard turn against Israel’s heritage as such a haven.
First, Israel ordered the deportation last Tuesday of thousands of African migrants who have been termed “infiltrators,” not immigrants, by Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority. Based on concerns repeatedly voiced by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a major motivator for the edict was the fear that the unchecked influx of African migrants could present a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish character. Seemingly ignored is the fact that such an influx is now all but impossible, given the massive border wall Israel has constructed along its border with Egypt.
An Israeli government minister, speaking to this effect, called the migrants “a cancer.” Similar statements have been made of Israel’s Arab population, including Jewish Arabs.
The majority of the estimated 38,000 migrants are from Eritrea and Sudan, where they have fled war and persecution, and clearly meet the legal definition of a “refugee” according to the 1951 Refugee Convention, an agreement that Israel not only signed but reportedly helped to draft.
However, Israel has managed to avoid its legal obligations by leaving asylum requests unanswered, preventing the migrants from being recognized as refugees. Since 2015, Israel has granted only eight Eritreans and two Sudanese asylum from amongst tens of thousands of applications.
Making migrants miserable
Unwilling to deport them to their home nations outright – which would put Israel in direct violation of the Refugee Convention for those migrants who fled war and persecution – Israel has instead relied on making migrants’ lives miserable by largely barring them from meaningful employment; confiscating 20 percent of any wages they do manage to earn; and even sending them to 12-month stints in a special migrant detention center known as Holot, in order to convince them to leave of their own accord. However, in some cases, migrants have been sent back to the very countries they fled, such as Sudan, after being told they were being sent to another country, such as Uganda or Ethiopia.
Though some media outlets have argued that the deportation edict has only targeted the migrants because they are not Jewish, the experience of African Jews within Israel suggests that something else may be to blame.
Many Jews of African descent, including African-Americans, have been accused of “faking” their conversion to Judaism or deported outright (even when having a valid visa). A “birthright” trip for a group of Ugandan Jews was also recently canceled by the Israeli government. Notably, this fate has not befallen any of the tens of thousands of North American Jews — who have been granted Israeli citizenship in recent years with few, if any, obstacles.
Even those African Jews who have been granted asylum have been unfairly targeted by the Israeli government. Many Ethiopian Jews, though granted residency in Israel, were forcibly sterilized – often without their consent or through coercion – as part of an “unspoken” Israeli government policy that targeted this group of immigrants exclusively.
As a result, the birth rate of Israel’s Ethiopian Jews has been on the decline. It is thus becoming increasingly evident that the Israeli state is concerned with maintaining not merely a majority Jewish population but a majority white Jewish population.
Bent on ideological, racial and ethnic purity
However, a Jew’s being of the “right” ethnicity is not enough to secure his or her welcome in modern Israel. Israel’s recent decision to ban numerous activists who are part of organizations affiliated with or supportive of Boycott-Divest-Sanctions (BDS) — the global movement seeking to protest the Israeli occupation of the West Bank through non-violent and economic means — has made this clear.
Many Jews – most notably those who are members of the group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) – are now banned from entering the country solely because of their ideological differences with the Israeli government. Code Pink, run by a Jewish-American activist, is also banned. And another group ironically included in the ban, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), is best known for having won a Nobel Peace Prize for aiding Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote on Facebook:
As someone with considerable family in Israel, this policy will be a personal hardship, but I am also heartened by this indicator of the BDS movement’s growing strength, and hope that it will bring the day closer when just as I go to visit my friends and family in Israel, so will Palestinian friends and colleagues be able to return home.”
Though emboldened by a friendly administration in Washington, the Israeli government’s recent decisions to mass-deport migrants and crack down on its ideological opponents is likely to backfire, only proving its critics right by exposing its preoccupation with cultivating not only religious but racial and ideological purity within Israel’s population.
This troubling reality contradicts the image Israel has long sought to cultivate in the West, one of a nation to which refugees are welcomed in solidarity and one that offers a home to any and all Jews.
However, reality seems to be catching up to Israel – and fast.
Top Photo | African refugees protest outside of the Holot detention center which houses thousands of African migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, near Ktsiot in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, Feb. 17, 2014. (AP/Oded Balilty)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, and 21st Century Wire among others. She currently lives in Southern Chile.