African Refugees Not Just Israel’s Problem, Say Scholars

Two prominent Holocaust historians are rallying support for a petition calling on the international community to help Israel deal with the African refugee crisis.

A new initiative, supported by prominent Holocaust and genocide scholars, calls on the international community to share responsibility for resolving the African refugee crisis in Israel, insisting that Israel should not be expected to carry the burden alone.

Spearheading the initiative are two leading Holocaust historians – Professor Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C., and Professor Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The two have been circulating a petition in recent days urging “a world solution for a world problem.” It has been signed, thus far, by 125 academics, clergy, human rights activists, interfaith leaders and writers and artists from the United States, Israel, South Africa, Sweden, Chile, Canada, France and Poland. It has also been endorsed by the Hebrew-University-Hadassah Genocide Prevention Program and the Israeli Association to Combat Genocide.

The initiative is meant to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Evian conference, when nations around the world turned their back on Europe’s Jewish refugees. Once a significant number of signatures have been accumulated, said Medoff, the petition, titled “The Evian Declaration,” will be presented to governments around the world.

“We call on the nations of the world to accept their responsibility to share the burden of resolving the African refugee crisis,” the petition states. “We hope Israel will play an appropriate role in such an effort, alongside other nations that are committed to doing their fair share.”

More than 60,000 African asylum seekers reside in Israel today, most having arrived in the past five years, according to the African Refugee Development Center in Israel, which advocates on their behalf. The vast majority have come from Eritrea and Sudan, crossing the border on foot from Egypt.

“Historians have a responsibility not just to study history, but if they have an opportunity to influence history in a positive direction, they should take it,” Medoff told Haaretz. “Just like the Jewish refugees during the Holocaust were not just a Jewish problem but a world problem, the African refugees in Israel are not just Israel’s problem but the world’s problem. In any situation where innocent people are suffering, it is important to think outside of the box and come up with creative solutions. The solution is not black and white – either kicking them all out or letting them all stay – as some would believe.”

Other countries, he noted, which are better equipped than Israel to absorb the refugees should be recruited to help solve the crisis. “They have more room, and they have more resources,” he said. “Israel has been taking a beating in the international press for how it treats the refugees, but never has there been any suggestion in these reports that maybe other countries should be lending a hand.”

Medoff noted that although he and Bauer have been known to cross swords on other issues, in particular on whether U.S. intervention could have prevented the Holocaust, it is significant that they have put aside their differences to join forces in this campaign.

Medoff is in Israel this week trying to promote the initiative more widely.

Dan Keinan