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On Israel's Right, a Call to Deport Hundreds of Thousands. What Then? Nakba?

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Asylum seekers stand in line in the rain at the Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv.
Asylum seekers stand in line in the rain at the Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv. Credit: Meged Gozani

Earlier this month, an article in Makor Rishon, an ideological flagship of the Israeli right, declared "The time has come for a public campaign for the deportation of all the illegals."

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The writer, Tzachi Levy, cited government figures showing that a total of at least 230,000 non-citizens are resident in Israel without permits, including, he said, no fewer that100,000 West Bank Palestinians, some in Israeli Arab towns and villages, others in East Jerusalem, others still among Negev Bedouin.

Levy said the undocumented constituted both a security threat and the danger of "an attempt to enact a back-door (Palestinian) 'Right of Return' exploiting the Israeli welfare state."

What are we supposed to think? That there are problems that we can just deport away?

Well, why not? For some in Israel, frustrated with a government which has few clear policies on any issue, including the future of the West Bank, Palestine, and democracy within Israel, it’s a tempting thought.

Last month, when Raziel Shevach, a West Bank rabbi, paramedic and father of six was murdered in a drive-by terror shooting, far-right Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel immediately urged the government "to expel the murderer's family in order to create a deterrent." There was no indication that the gunman's family was in any way involved.

But this is why not:

In the national psyche of Israelis and Palestinians both, the horror projected by the specter of deportation and exile has no equal. In many ways, Judaism itself, its scripture, its liturgy, its focus, is an effort to heal from and address the pain of thousands of years of exile. In many ways, Palestinian culture, nationality and peoplehood are inseparable from the memories and anguish evoked by the word Nakba, the catastrophe - the exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes surrounding the1948 war.

Even in this ostensibly modern age, there are many on both sides who will state without reservation that, given a choice, they would sincerely choose death over expulsion from their home and land.

Which is why, at times when there are calls on the Israeli right to use deportation as a tool for solving some of Israel's problems, the call itself can have incendiary effect.

This is one of those times.

For weeks, activists and commentators on the left have been warning that the mass deportations of African asylum seekers could serve as something of a government test run for a future demography-based, no-compromise, no-diplomacy "solution" to the issues posed by a large, disenfranchised Palestinian population in the West Bank –  the specter of population "transfer," and, in the process, the dissolution of the last remaining links between Israel and democracy.

Now, although it's not clear whether it comes in the form of warning or welcome, sounds of a similar tone have emerged from the right.

What are we supposed to think, when Eldad Beck, a defender of the government's plan to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers, directs our attention to the Makor Rishon opinion piece, commenting in a Saturday Facebook post:

"I wouldn't exclude the possibility, that the struggle to foil the deportation of infiltrators from Africa is actually intended to serve as a promo for a struggle against a more significant deportation of Arab infiltrators."

More to the point, as the Netanyahu administration - defying the pleas of experts in international law and the expressed outrage of broad swathes of world Jewry and the Israeli public - continued preparations to expel many of the 37,000 African asylum seekers resident in Israel, hard right Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had a simple but appalling message Monday in the government's defense: Ethnic cleaning in the service of Zionism.

To be precise, Shaked used neither the term Zionism not the charged epithet ethnic cleansing. She didn't have to.

Citing laws enacted to demographically preserve a Jewish majority in Israel – Shaked declared that "The state should say that it is proper to maintain the Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights."

Defending the government's determination to keep the word "equality" out of the proposed new Jewish Nation-State Bill, Shaked said “There are places where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained, and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality.”

And, lest the real motive of the government's deportation of African asylum seekers be misconstrued as anything other than what it is – a misguided, unneeded, racially targeted roundup and persecution scapegoating law-abiding migrants instead of dealing with the very real social problems of Israelis in south Tel Aviv – Shaked then doubled down:

Speaking to the Congress on Judaism and Democracy on Monday, Shaked said that were it not for the fence Israel erected on its Egyptian border with Sinai, effectively cutting off the flow of asylum seekers, “We would be seeing here a kind of creeping conquest from Africa.”

Let's leave aside, for the moment, the fact that in plowing ahead with the deportations, the government is acting contrary to the advice of some of its strongest supporters, notably attorney and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz, who said earlier this year, “The whiff of racism can’t be avoided when you have a situation where 40,000 people of color are the ones who are being deported en masse, without being individualized and every single case considered on its merits.”

Or Dershowitz's conclusion that the Law of Return, which pre-approves for citizenship anyone whom Israeli officials recognize as Jewish, “shouldn’t be a law that excludes others from being valuable citizens.”

And let's also leave aside the See-No-Outpost blind spots in the Makor Rishon argument, which avers: "In a state with the rule of law, anyone who is here illegally should be respectfully ejected from Israel."

And let's also ignore, for the moment, the lies the government has told and continues to spin, in support of a plan which has been shown, over and over, to have served the Likud and Shas in campaigns of incitement against black people.

It's time to ask what the talk – and the test runs - of an Israel seeking to deport away its problems, is doing to the people of this country.

It's time to ask if what is becoming treasonous is exactly the compassion and generosity of the "Jewish heart" which the government's ministers so often extol as a given.

Try this on for size, the new exemplar, the Mr. Macho growl in defense of drop-kicking kids. Here's Makor Rishon's Levy taking the government to task for deciding, at this stage at least, to exempt families from deportation – including children who have never known a home and a culture beside Israel:

"Everywhere in the world, families migrate and the children acclimatize.

"Clearly, it's not so nice to return to a Third World Country, but let's stop with the Political Correctness – we're not sending anyone to die, and even if the situation is not pleasant, Israel can't overload its gaunt shoulders with all the troubles of the Third World."

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