'You Have Nazi Friends': Lawmakers Kicked Out of Heated Panel on Israel's Asylum Seekers Deportation

Interior minister says unnamed country agreed to accept African Asylum seekers even if they are deported by force

Knesset Member Tamar Zandberg being escorted out by security from hearing on African asylum seekers
Emil salman

Interior Minister Arye Dery said on Monday that an unnamed state, where asylum seekers from Israel will be sent, has agreed to accept them even if the deportation is carried out by force. A number of lawmakers were kicked out of the session, which dealt with Israel's plan to deport asylum seekers.

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"I take responsibility for saying this, despite the news from the last few days, that everything is being done with full agreement of
the third-party country which knows everything to the last detail," Dery said during a meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee.

MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) asked in response: "Even if the deportation is by force, the agreement still stands?"

An asylum seeker at the Knesset speaks to Israeli Interior Minister Arye Dery, January 29, 2018.
Emil Salman

Dery replied: "The answer is yes."

Past reports suggested that the "third country" was Rwanda. Dery's answer conflicted with statements made by Rwanda's deputy foreign minister, who called on the migrants in Israel not to come to his country against their will.

Tensions then intensified in the room during the debate. MK Oren Hazan (Likud) attacked the New Israel Fund, which he called "the Israel Destruction Fund," for its support for an initiative to hide asylum seekerswhile comparing them to Anne Frank.

Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) responded to Hazan, and said: "You have Nazi friends all over the world." MK Amir Ohana (Likud) then accused Zandberg of abusing the memory of the Holocaust.

The hearing was halted temporarily because of the disruptions and both Zandberg and Hazan were kicked out along with MK Stav Shafir (Zionist Union) and MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union). 

Also during the session, Dery said during that Eritrean asylum seekers prefer to leave for Rwanda first, and only travel home from there. This way, he said, they try to avoid paying a fine to their government for the period in which they were not in the country. He said that this was the real reason why they don't want to be deported to Eritrea, and not out of fear for their lives.

But in most Western countries have given the majority of Eritrean migrants refugee status, stating the dangers they face if they return to their country. Israel, meanwhile, has only given refugee status to a total of 11 asylum seekers.  

Dery, speaking of figures of deportations from last year, said that apart from "Three thousand Africans who left last year, 5,300 people, most of them Ukrainian and Georgian, were deported."

Eritrean migrants wear chains to mimic slaves at a demonstration against the Israeli government's policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers from Israel to Uganda and Rwanda, outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Oded Balilty/AP

Dery said that he most of all "wants to give verified and official data. I have seen in recent weeks that there are legitimate differences of opinion, but much of the discussion is about inexact and inaccurate data."

There are some 38,000 African asylum seekers in Israel who started crossing into to Israel from Egypt about a decade ago. At their height their numbers reached some 60,000 but some have since been resettled in other countries or agreed to accept $3,000 grant from the Israeli government to be deported to third countries, that have not been named officially but are widely understood to be Rwanda and Uganda.

A growing number of Israelis and Diaspora Jews have been mobilizing in protest of the planned deportations which are scheduled to begin in March, among them Holocaust survivors who see their stories reflected in those of today's African asylum seekers. 

There are testimonials from some of African asylum seekers who have already traveled back to Rwanda and Uganda, the other country Israel has deported them to, that the journey can be dangerous, even deadly. The migrants usually move on from those countries and there are reports many have been robbed and some have been raped, sold into slavery and even faced death as they attempt to make it to Europe.