Israel Is Disgracing Jewish Ethics

Have we forgotten that we too wandered from place to place with no one willing to take us in?

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Unfortunately, the strike by tens of thousands of African asylum seekers and their enormous peaceful demonstration in Rabin Square may touch the hearts of only a few Tel Avivians and other bleeding hearts around the country. Most Israelis want the Africans to continue being abused, or refuse to think about the subject “because we have enough problems of our own.”

There’s a good reason the demonstration was held in Rabin Square, the leftists’ square, which after so many years of right-wing control can draw tens of thousands for events like the Nike Nightrun or Hebrew Book Week. For much of the nation, the view from above only intensifies the fear. A large group of black people demanding rights — that’s a nightmare for much of the nation, the people not drowning in affluence but struggling to keep their heads above water financially and maintain their security.

These people don’t have enough air, leisure or strength for questions of ethics, human rights and other nonsense of well-fed intellectuals from north Tel Aviv. After all, nationalism and xenophobia are the refuge of the hungry, who feel they have to defend every bit of bread, even if that means killing somebody. They must protect their places in line for resources, even if that means trampling on the even weaker.

The government, which is largely responsible for these people’s difficult lives, has jumped on that empty bandwagon and is firing up the hate machine. So it’s no wonder that most Israelis don’t see the asylum seekers as human beings, but as germs that need to be wiped out — and all that Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar can say of the pictures from Rabin Square is that “this indicates the size of the subject” (read: the problem).

He says this as he repeats the slogan “a state of all its infiltrators,” referring to 53,000 refugees, portraying them as enemies of the Zionist vision and an existential danger. He makes no mention of the tragic fate of the people throughout the world who prefer slavery in exile to life in their own country. He merely notes that he’s “not impressed by the weeping and lamenting of the people who have dishes piled up in the sink,” referring to the employers who encouraged their workers to demonstrate to protect their lives instead of showing up for work.

It’s no wonder that few Israelis see the refugees as human beings when the State Prosecutor’s Office doesn’t mention their names in the indictments it hands down against them. It marks them with numbers instead. When the prime minister finds the time, he declares them criminals. No minister sees fit to come out against the law letting human beings — refugees or immigrants — be imprisoned without trial for a year. The government, cruelly and cynically, forbids them work but turns a blind eye when they're exploited — thus, incidentally, lowering the status of workers and setting the poor against the poor.

If this is how our highest officials behave, we can only expect that smaller fries like Likud MK Miri Regev would come out with statements calling the refugees a cancer and then apologize to cancer patients. With elected officials like these, what can a nation do?

How can it gain wisdom to see these officials for the callous nationalists and paranoia-ridden racists they are? Their constant contempt for the rule of law and international law would make them persona non grata in any properly run country. They’re a disgrace to the legacy of the Zionist movement, liberal ideology and Jewish ethics, which stress respect for the widow, orphan and stranger.

Whether the African refugees are helpless people seeking asylum or work migrants scheming to get rich, as the government portrays them, the problem won’t be talked about in Israeli history in terms of the solution, whether they stay or are deported, whether they're locked up in prison or in a “facility.” Rather, it will be talked about as a black mark on Israel’s history, the dehumanization that the descendants of the Nazis’ victims perpetrated against other human beings decades after their own ancestors wandered hither and yon with their bundles and their children, and found not a single open door.

African migrants protest Israel's expulsion bill in central Tel Aviv on January 5, 2014. Credit: Alex Levac

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