U.S. Jewish Groups Urge Netanyahu to Reconsider Nixed Asylum Seeker Deal With UN

‘Israel played a leading role in the creation of the United Nations Refugee Convention,’ write the organizations in open letter, asking the prime minister to ‘reflect the principles enshrined in that agreement’

African asylum seekers and supporters rally in Jerusalem after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled the UN agreement to absorb thousands of asylum seekers in Western Europe, April 4, 2018.
Emil salman

WASHINGTON — A number of Jewish American organizations sent an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, urging him to recommit to the UN deal concerning African asylum seekers in Israel, which he canceled this week under pressure from his right-wing political supporters.

The groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism and others, stated that they wrote the letter out of “great concern for the safety and future of African asylum seekers in Israel.”

“We urge Israel to re-commit to an agreement with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to guarantee the safety of the 39,000 asylum seekers currently within their borders,” the letter reads. “We appreciate your acknowledgement of ‘the growing legal and international limitation’ on forcibly deporting asylum seekers to countries that are not prepared to receive them. We hope that this acknowledgement means that Israel will not resume its plans to deport asylum seekers to unnamed countries in Africa.”

Other organizations that signed the letter include the left-wing Jewish group J Street and HIAS, which focuses on immigration issues. The groups noted that “in the wake of the Holocaust, Israel played a leading role in the creation of the United Nations Refugee Convention, which established the international framework for the protection of refugees around the world. We urge Israel to reflect the principles enshrined in that agreement and find a path forward for the refugees by providing full and fair asylum procedures and actively seeking options for third country resettlement.”

They concluded their letter by telling Netanyahu that “our shared Jewish tradition teaches us to welcome and protect the stranger. During this season when we remember that in the days of our ancestors, we too crossed the Sinai in search of freedom, we cannot give up on ensuring the safety of those fleeing persecution. While we were disappointed by the sudden reversal on the agreement with UNHCR, it is not too late. Israel can still take advantage of this opportunity to pursue a humane solution.”

The full list of organizations that signed the letter follows:

Anti-Defamation League
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
J Street
National Council of Jewish Women
New Israel Fund
Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructing Judaism
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism