Dozens of School Principals Demand Israel Halt Deportation of Asylum Seekers

In letter to PM and education minister, they call for 'humane solution;' Rabbi Susan Silverman says hundreds are ready to hide asylum seekers in their homes

Eliyahu Hershkovich

Fifty-one principals from schools around the country wrote the prime minister and the education minister on Monday to demand that they halt the deportation of asylum seekers.

“We, who are responsible for educating boys and girls of all ages and teach the ethical and constitutional foundations on which the State of Israel was founded, as they are written and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, urge you to halt the deportation of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to countries where they face torture, suffering and death — and find a humane solution for them in Israel, along with a solution to the needs and distress of all residents of the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv,” the letter said, referring to the areas with the highest concentration of asylum seekers.

“We teach tens of thousands of students about our past as refugees, persecuted people and asylum seekers during the darkest periods of human history, out of a personal and professional commitment to ensure ‘never again,’ and as people who believe in the individual’s ability and obligation to choose to do the right, ethical thing even in the face of an inflamed mob and at the price of personal risk. We believe that asylum seekers, like all people, are entitled to have their natural rights protected, by virtue of their being human beings, by virtue of conventions that Israel has signed, and by virtue of the Declaration of Independence and Israel’s Jewish and human values,” the letter continued.

Along with the wave of petitions and letters against the deportations, Rabbi Susan Silverman recently set up the Anne Frank Home Sanctuary movement, aimed at formulating a list of people prepared to hide asylum seekers in their homes.

“We’ve started to ask people to commit to taking in asylum seekers if it comes down to choosing between imprisonment in Israel or expulsion [which would mean] life as a refugee, [a victim of] human trafficking or death. We pray that we won’t get to this point, but we are making arrangements in case we do. We hope the government will change course, and we’re getting a lot of support,” Silverman said Monday.

She said that hundreds of people had already committed to taking in asylum seekers if necessary.

“At the Shalom Hartman Institute we have 200 rabbis who’ve committed not just to take people in themselves, but to encourage their congregations to do so," she said, citing a Jerusalem educational center. "People from the entire political spectrum – we even have people from the territories – who’ve said ‘count us in, we’ll do it,’” she said. “People with whom I have very little in common with politically are all with us. It’s something that’s bringing together Israelis from the entire political spectrum. It’s pretty amazing.”

Silverman, a Jerusalemite and Reform rabbi, said that she isn’t afraid to declare publicly that she will shelter asylum seekers. “If they want to raid citizens’ homes, that’s what they’ll have to do. We won’t make it easy for them to take people and deport them to their deaths. That’s the minimum [requirement] of being a Jewish state.”