An Eritrean migrant in Tel Aviv.
An Eritrean migrant in Tel Aviv. Photo by Reuters
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Eritrea, like Israel, is being demonized throughout the world, the Eritrean ambassador to Israel said yesterday during a Knesset committee meeting.

Tesfamariam Tekeste, who spoke to the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, said that the West and international organizations are demonizing his homeland despite never having stepped foot in it.

"No one is going to teach me about human rights," Tekeste said. "If I believed every word that was said about Israel, I would not have come here. They make Israel look like some kind of hell, but I can read between the lines."

Tekeste further told the committee that Eritrea makes use of the resources it has and does not rely on the Western world, which he claims has imposed democratic regimes on many African countries, causing internal wars and tremendous loss of life.

"Eritrea gained its independence 21 years ago and I am sure that in 10 years it will be the most well-respected democracy in Africa," Tekeste added.

The ambassador also claimed that Eritrea faced a lack of cooperation when it called on Israel to return Eritrean citizens who arrived in the country in 2007, and that the country will not allow people who "will sabotage the building of the state" to return.

Avi Granot, the head of African affairs in the Foreign Ministry, said during the meeting that Israel would like to see "more cooperation and responsibility on Eritrea's part."

Granot added that Israel wants to know that those who return to Eritrea will receive all the proper protections and rights granted by international conventions, and that Israel "has a responsibility toward these people as well as a responsibility to return them to their homeland." Granot further stated that that Israel is looking for a third-party country that will agree to accept the Eritrean migrants - so far to no avail.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ), who heads the committee, said that the Israeli attitude toward the situation in Eritrea and toward Eritrean citizens within Israel derives from its commitments to international treaties and UN decisions. Horowitz called the international documents released on Eritrea "harsh and unambiguous."

MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ) asked Tekeste to find avenues for cooperation with Israel so that the Eritreans can return to their homeland.

At one point, Yonatan Gher, head of Amnesty International in Israel, listed off crimes committed by the Eritrean government, saying that the country does not allow foreign media, freedom of worship or freedom of speech, and that it enforces a mandatory military service which often includes forced physical labor. Gher added that the return of Eritreans to their home country may end up "costing them their lives."

Tekeste responded to the criticism by saying that Eritrea has been dealing with accusations for many years, all of which are part of a "negative campaign against Eritrea."