Our Grandchildren Will Ask What We Israelis Did During the Expulsion

Israel is not an exception: Only rarely do peoples learn from their own history and we, too, have not learned anything.

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Asylum seekers from Eritrea protest outside the Rwandan Embassy in Israel, January 22, 2018.
Asylum seekers from Eritrea protest outside the Rwandan Embassy in Israel, January 22, 2018.Credit: Meged Gozani
Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer

They crossed borders without permission and in doing so created serious social, economic and political problems. They tried to stop them but they kept on coming, until in the end the border stabilized and the shocking infiltration came to an end.

No, this is not the story of the refugees of the genocide in Darfur and the horrors of the Eritrean dictatorship that reached Israel. This is the story of the Jews between 1945 and 1947. About a quarter-million people fled and became illegal immigrants. Horrible? In their case there was no third-party country willing to “absorb” the refugees in return for security and other agreements.

Israel is not an exception: Only rarely do peoples learn from their own history and we too have not learned anything. Like “our” Africans, the Jews were foreigners, another race. Not at all Norwegians – not the Jews in 1945, and not those from Darfur and Eritrea today. What will we do without the Africans? It seems we will unload our racism on the Palestinians, and on each other.

From a practical standpoint, the deportation of the Africans is an act of complete stupidity. How many of them are here? About 37,000? That’s 0.4 percent of the population. They are willing without any hesitation to work alongside and in the stead of the foreign workers we bring en masse to Israel, because Israelis – mostly the Jews among them – don’t like to get their hands dirty. We don’t need to bring the Africans, they are already here. True, manpower companies will not make any money on them, and that is bad for the companies. But simple economic logic says that these tens of thousands of people can be hired at minimum wage, we can receive the taxes they pay until they can return home to their countries.

If they cannot return (and the great majority want to return), they can be absorbed here, like the 300,000 or so immigrants who came because of the Law of Return but are not considered Jewish. The Africans are about 10 percent of those numbers. But the problem is after all not economic, the problem is skin color.

The problem is also not south Tel Aviv. Without the Africans, it would be poor, as it was before they came. Then who would they hate? I am willing to bet that they would curse the government and city hall, and still vote for them in the next election. Those who are screwed over always vote for those who screwed them.

The person in charge of the deportation is Interior Minister Arye Dery, who will send those who refuse to leave to prison, for an unlimited amount of time. He is right for this job for two reasons: First, he knows the issue personally, because he served prison time himself and no one is an expert like he is. Second, he has experience with discrimination: At the time there was discrimination against the new immigrants from Morocco, even if they were not threatened with deportation. He will build transit camps for the refuges. They deserve prison after all, don’t they? The “Mizrahim” of the Interior Ministry persecute the more Mizrahi than they, whose skin is darker than theirs, at the command of what is in essence extreme Ashkenazi nationalism. True Jewish unity. 

he Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority issued a very carefully worded letter: Rwanda (which somehow was not mentioned by name) will accept them, it is a wonderful place, and they will work. Really? Have we seen a Rwandan (or Ugandan or other) document that confirms this and makes a commitment to what the deportees have been promised?

What is the Israeli and Jewish interest in all this? We put an end to the flight of refugees to Israel with a wall, and Bedouin in the Sinai Peninsula can no longer rob, rape, torture and murder the refugees. They told us that hundreds of thousands would come. It didn’t happen. If we want to be loved by Africa, we will accept these refugees, these “infiltrators” – may God have mercy on us – and take pride the same way we were proud, justifiably, when we accepted Vietnamese and Bosnian refugees. We will also gain a small but important workforce.

They will not become Jews, they do not want that, but maybe they will become friends of the Jews, and that is more important. The moral approach here is also the pragmatic political approach.

If all these justifications do not help, then we must appeal to those who stand to carry out the deportations: The police officers who will arrest the refugees, the Population Authority officials, the bus drivers who will transport them, the airline pilots who will fly the deportees and the ground crews at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

We need to find out the names of all of these people and appeal to them, and tell them: What you are being asked to do violates every national and human morality. Don’t do it. And if you do it anyway, we will publicize your names: a completely legal act. These are the people who committed acts marked by a black flag. The claim that you just followed orders and are just government workers will not help you. It reminds us too much of the similar situations in the past: An order from above does not free one from moral responsibility. Your grandchildren will ask: What did you do, grandma and grandpa?

You don’t want to be remembered in disgrace, do you?

Yehuda Bauer is a history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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