Hundreds of Israeli Academics Urge Netanyahu Not to Deport African Asylum Seekers: 'We Have a Historic Duty'

Letter follows similar call by 35 prominent Israeli authors on Thursday and another letter by 50 Orthodox rabbis

Protesters demonstrate in Tel Aviv against the planned deportation of African asylum seekers from Israel, December 29, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

Just days after 35 prominent Israeli authors called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw plans to deport thousands of African asylum seekers, nearly 500 Israeli academics have signed a similar letter.

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“We call on you to retract the cabinet resolution [approving the] arrest and forcible deportation of the asylum seekers who have taken refuge in Israel,” 470 college and university faculty members wrote in the letter addressed to the prime minister, members of the cabinet and President Reuven Rivlin.

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“We have a duty to remember that we were persecuted foreigners and refugees, and we must extend a warm welcome to the asylum seekers who fled from their homes and their homelands in order to save their own lives and the lives of their family members,” it continued.

“The history of our nation requires Israel to serve as a model for the treatment of children and adults who seek refuge from ethnic cleansing, persecution and political violence, from human trafficking, from rape and from torture. Israel is large and strong enough to provide temporary shelter and refuge to tens of thousands of asylum seekers from eastern Africa until such a time as they can return to their homes, freely and in security,” the letter added.

A similar letter was signed by 50 rabbis associated with the Orthodox, pluralistic association Torat Chayim. They called on the state to uphold Jewish law and follow the biblical prohibition from Deuteronomy 23:16: Thou shalt not deliver unto his master a bondman that is escaped from his master unto thee.

The rabbis noted that the estimated 35,000 African asylum seekers living in Israel represent less than one-half of one percent of the population of the state – a number too small to significantly change Israel’s demographic balance, they say.

The authors’ letter on Thursday called on Netanyahu “to act morally, humanely and with compassion worthy of the Jewish people, and to stop the deportation of refugees to the hell from which they fled before it starts. Otherwise, we will have no reason to exist.”

Opposition to plans to forcibly deport asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan and to imprison indefinitely anyone who refuses to leave has been growing in Israel. Last Wednesday, hundreds of people took part in a Knesset demonstration initiated by MKs Michal Rozin (Meretz), Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) and Dov Khenin (Joint List). A similar event sponsored by the Hartman Institute and Rabbis for Human Rights was held in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Protests were also held Tuesday in front of ministers’ and Knesset members’ homes in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva and Haifa.

Eli Nehama, principal of south Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School – many of whose students are the children of asylum seekers – called on the government to prevent deportation. He warned that such a policy was immoral and would be a tragedy for generations to come.