Let My People Stay. In Israel. Even if They're Africans. Or Arabs.

The prime minister says the protests and strikes will do no good, we're going to get rid of all of the Africans. But the prime minister works for me. He's my employee. And I say let my people stay.

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Do you know who your people are? If you live in this place, or have a soft spot for it, chances are you do.

I ask the question, first of all, because of a remarkable account of a trip to Israel by scientist and thinking-persons' sit-com star Mayim Bialik ("The Big Bang Theory").

I found her love letter to Israel shockingly, knowingly, fearlessly direct, as though someone had excavated my own long-buried memories, and brought me face to face with why I'd come here in the first place:

"I hate politics and I hate religion for so many reasons, and I don’t understand the government of Israel most of the time, or who runs the nation’s publicity campaign either for that matter. But I love the homeland of the Jewish people. I have wanted it very badly since it was a collective dream of an ancient set of wandering souls, gathered from the communities of despair and oppression and hope and desire. For thousands of years I have wanted that so badly.

"I go to Israel because I believe in the possibility of the state of Israel. The journey to possibility is personal and it is collective. And this is a land overflowing with possibility of so many things. Miracles, dreams, salvation. It is mine."

The day I read this, I received a letter from a reader who told me that I am a traitor to my people. The reader went on to write that Arabs are cannibals, that Bedouin citizens of Israel have neither rights nor ties to any land, and that African asylum seekers should go back to Egypt – where they had eluded summary killings to make it through the Sinai to Israel.

I have to say that - with all the hate mail that Israeli journalists routinely receive - being called a traitor to my people gave me pause. That, and Mayim Bialik's words, made me think about who my people really are. This is pretty much the answer:

You know my people when you see them. You know them when, in the face of meanness and willful blindness and pettiness and bullying and bigotry and cowardly dishonesty, they believe with baseless optimism in an Israel, a Holy Land, with a future of freedom. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they believe in the possibility of a decent life in a decent society.

You might have seen them this week on the streets of Tel Aviv. Many of them, though they come from the Sudan or Eritrea, are people who speak Hebrew, some of them with excellence. They have come to know Israel and even Jewish history in ways many of the rest of us do not. They have an understanding of genocide, or of slavery, that only comes first-hand. Some of them are raising children here, children who are as Israeli as anyone. They want to make a life for themselves. Ask their employers. They make this a better place.

When I speak to them it's clear. They're my people too.

The prime minister says, over and over, that the demonstrations and strikes will do no good, we're going to get rid of all of them. But the prime minister works for me. He's my employee. I say let my people stay.

Or you might have seen my people in a café in Umm al-Fahm this week, Israeli Arabs discussing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's plan to carve them off into a future Palestinian state. You might have heard them say, as they did, unafraid, to a television reporter:

"We built the country here, on this land …We don't want to be cut off from our brothers in Acre and Haifa and Ramle and Jaffa … We are Palestinian and Israeli both, but we want to stay under Israeli rule."

The people of Umm al-Fahm are more Israeli than I will ever be. Or, for that matter, than the foreign minister will ever be. He is their employee, as well. We all pay his salary. And I say: Let my people stay.

Other employees, like MK Ayelet Shaked, have been condemning my people, like the New Israel Fund and others, for granting African asylum seekers humanitarian aid. Even though humanitarian aid is what my People – the one with a capital letter – was meant to do. The Jerusalem Post went further, suggesting in an editorial that the actual goal of the NGOs in aiding African asylum seekers was to bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish state. 

In synagogues the world this over this Saturday, my People will be reading the Torah portion in which the Red Sea is parted to save the hounded, terrified and despairing Children of Israel, who have newly freed themselves.

By tradition, the sea did not part until Nachshon took it upon himself to walk in to the water, and only parted when he had continued walking so far that the water level was above his mouth and perilously close to his nostrils.

My People, with a capital letter, will be divided as well this weekend. There will be those who believe that the Nachshon of our day is a settler, perhaps even a Hilltop Youth, wading in despite all appeal to reason, undeterred and unrelenting.

And then there will be those among my People who believe that Nachshon's goal – no less irrational, no less perilous – will be to forge a path to a peace and a much more livable and just future. Those are my people. I want no harm to come to settlers. They are part of my People, as I, perhaps to their chagrin, are part of theirs. But for my people, lower-case, those with whom I choose to go into the sea, Nachon's path leads out of the territories, not into them.

Let my people stay. They know where they belong.

African migrants protesting in Tel Aviv, January 7, 2014.Credit: AFP

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