The ultranationalist-religious revolution raging in Israel encourages displays of racism, ultranationalism and xenophobia. In this atmosphere, it’s no wonder the government refuses to return to the plan proposed for the asylum seekers by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and that the Interior Ministry is instead revisiting the possibility of deporting them back to Eritrea and Sudan, as reported in Haaretz on Tuesday.
The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unwilling to let go of the deportation option. It prefers this to compromising and adopting a realistic solution, which would require absorbing some of the asylum seekers.
On April 3, a day after announcing the deal with the refugee organization, Netanyahu canceled it due to pressure from the right. The agreement called for resettling some 16,000 asylum seekers in Western countries and granting the same number legal status in Israel.
Netanyahu thus canceled an agreement that would not only have ensured the departure of many asylum seekers to countries that would see to their welfare, but would also have helped residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the asylum seekers live, while dispersing the remainder throughout Israel. Rejecting this plan hurt south Tel Aviv residents. Back then, Netanyahu promised to invest hundreds of millions of shekels in rehabilitating their neighborhoods. Now, they will have to settle for 28 million shekels ($7.7 million) over three years, as the cabinet decided Monday.
Xenophobia and a sense of Jewish superiority are so rampant in Netanyahu’s Israel that some people are incapable of even the minimal generosity needed to absorb a minuscule number of asylum seekers, simply because they threaten the purity of the Jewish nation.
No country except Sudan forcibly deports Eritreans to Eritrea nowadays. Granted, this month Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace agreement to end their 20-year conflict, so perhaps at some point in the future, Eritreans who deserted from the army will no longer have to fear going home. But for now, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said that Eritreans living in Israel (some 26,000 people) canot return safely to their own country.
As for Sudan, its government sees Israel as an enemy state, forbids its citizens to have any contact with it and threatens to punish any Sudanese who entered this country. According to Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, at the end of 2017 there were 7,500 adult Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel, including people from Darfur.
Instead of searching for bad solutions that cannot be implemented in any case and which there’s no chance the High Court of Justice would approve, the government should adopt the UN plan — not only for the sake of the asylum seekers and longtime residents of south Tel Aviv, but also for the sake of Israel’s moral posture.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.