Opinion |

Israel, a Few Steps Ahead of Trump

Not only does Israel have a southern border wall to keep outsiders out, it also bars entry to people from some of the countries named in President Trump’s executive order.

Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross
African refugees sit on the ground behind a border fence after they attempted to cross illegally from Egypt into Israel as Israeli soldiers stand guard.
African refugees sit on the ground behind a border fence after they attempted to cross illegally from Egypt into Israel as Israeli soldiers stand guard.Credit: AP
Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross

Donald Trump cited Israel as a model for building his border wall with Mexico, and Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed to the world that Trump is right, crowing that the wall he built on Israel’s southern border stopped “illegal immigration.” Please bear in mind that what Netanyahu calls “illegal immigration” is the entry of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, and that Israel also recognizes that such people (at least the Eritreans, who are the majority of them) cannot be expelled to their country of origin.

But the border wall isn’t the only thing for which Trump can claim inspiration from Israel. His controversial executive order banning the entry of citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen into the United States also has an Israeli precedent. Article 2 of the 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law stipulates that “despite what is said in any legal provision, including article 7 of the Citizenship Law, the minister of the interior shall not grant the inhabitant of the area (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) citizenship on the basis of the Citizenship Law, or a citizen or resident of a country listed in the addendum (Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq) and shall not give him a license to reside in Israel on the basis of the Entry into Israel Law, and the area commander shall not grant such an inhabitant a permit to stay in Israel. ”

Thus, for more than a decade now, the Israeli law, which the High Court of Justice affirmed by a margin of one vote, has banned the granting of residency permits in Israel to citizens of three of the countries on Trump’s blacklist, plus Lebanon. It also bans the granting of such permits to Palestinians, who are not included in Trump’s order. One could rightly argue that the Israeli law does not have the same kind of dramatic impact on the citizens of those countries as does Trump’s order, which is affecting people who live, study, visit and are raising families in the United States. It deals a much harsher blow than does the law in Israel, in terms of its effect on Iranians, Syrians and Iraqis.

The Israeli law also makes exceptions for certain humanitarian conditions and other special circumstances. But the law severely affects Palestinians, especially Palestinians from the territories and Israelis who are married to them, barring them from living together in Israel. Thus there are Israeli Arab women forced to live apart from their husbands who are from the territories and unable to obtain a residency permit. Often, these women are also forced to raise their children alone as well. There are also Israeli Jews with spouses from one of the countries on the list whose marriages are affected, and Israeli women having to raise their children without their father.

Trump’s order also immediately affects the entry of refugees into the United States, especially from Syria. Of course here, too, its effect is different from that of the Israeli law. However, in Israel’s written procedure regarding asylum seekers, it reserves for itself the right not to absorb or grant entry to Israel to subjects of enemy states or “hostile countries.” Moreover, the Israeli law refers to the asylum seekers who enter Israel as “infiltrators,” i.e., as criminals who can be held at the Holot detention facility for up to a year. If not for a High Court ruling, it would have been possible for them to be held there indefinitely.

Again, there are obvious differences between the American and Israeli contexts. In Israel, in addition to the official security justification, there is the backdrop of the “demographic” consideration regarding the Palestinians. But despite the differences, it seems that not only on the wall, but also in terms of restricting entry to the country, Israel has been a few steps ahead of Trump. His policy, which is rightly being denounced around the world and spurring mass demonstrations, has been Israel’s policy for some time now.

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