Opinion

When Netanyahu Supported Protection for Asylum Seekers

In 2007, the Israeli premier showed leadership by supporting refugees 'in need of protection and asylum' but has since taken a dark turn

An asylum seeker with hands in chains at the protest in Herzliya, January 22, 2018.
Meged Gozani

In 2007, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert formed an interministerial committee to suggest how to handle the refugees from Sudan, who had arrived via Egypt. The committee recommended sending them back to Egypt, although there was reliable testimony that they were being tortured and murdered upon their return.

The Knesset was in an uproar – 63 MKs across the political spectrum called on Olmert to change his mind, because “the refugees who came here from Sudan are in need of protection and asylum, and absorbing them is a supreme moral obligation in light of the history of the Jewish people and the values of democracy and humanity.” One of the signatories was the opposition leader at the time, who demonstrated impressive leadership: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When Bibi became the king of Israel – his opinion changed with amazing flexibility.

Apparently Jewish history has been erased, to be replaced by base populism. Netanyahu is supporting and encouraging the incitement against the Africans, and Israel’s irresponsible policy, with groundless pseudo-economic claims. In an atmosphere that sanctifies a disdain for facts and invents a distorted history, in which the nation that is ruling by brutal means sees itself as a perpetual victim, he is making a show of being the responsible adult who is concerned for the welfare of his citizens.

In fact, he is obsessively preoccupied with one task: divide and conquer, crush, crumble and incite. In contrast to that manifesto, which crossed the lines of right and left, the present discussion has deteriorated into a quarrel between a left (which is dubbed “extremist”) that shouts “Nazis” and a right that shouts “self-hating Jews.”

Israel is now in last place in the world in terms of granting refugee permits, according to a report by Assaf, an aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. The international average is 87 percent for those who left Eritrea and 63 percent for those who are leaving Sudan. We are thereby violating the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that we helped initiate in the wake of the post-World War II refugee crisis and then signed. We are in effect the only ones who are doing nothing at all to process properly refugee status determination requests. Out of over 13,000 such requests, only 10 have been approved to date, and over 7,000 haven’t come up for discussion. Thousands are waiting in line to submit a request. Their chances that they will reach the only bureau in Israel are slim.

Haaretz headline: "Over 60 Knesset Members Oppose The Expulsion of Sudanese Refugees," August 3, 2007.

Now they’re telling us about agreements with a “third country,” in other words Uganda and/or Rwanda, who have already mumbled half-heartedly that there are no such agreements. Meanwhile, out of the thousands of refugees who have already been expelled from Israel to Rwanda (at an astronomical cost, including policemen who fly to the ends of the earth, and a payment to the refugees that turns them into victims of torture and blackmail) only seven have remained there. The rest fled, or were persecuted, expelled or murdered. The few who succeeded in reaching refugee centers in Greece give horrifying testimony.

So what exactly has happened to Netanyahu since 2007? He‘ll probably seize on the numerical difference (a few thousand then compared to several tens of thousands now), but according to the figures of the Population and Immigration Authority, in addition to the 37,000 “infiltrators,” in 2017 there were 86,870 legal migrant workers in Israel, 18,555 illegal migrant workers and another 74,000 “tourists” without a valid visa, most of them from Eastern Europe and South America. A total of 179,425 migrant workers, who for some reason don’t arouse hysteria and aren’t described as stealing the livelihood of Israelis.

The unfortunate conclusion is that Netanyahu understands that the African refugees whom he is sending to their deaths by torture provides excellent political capital. What is more despicable, cynical, cruel and infuriating that this pathetic motive, which Jewish history now has to carry on its back.