The budding signs of civil disobedience inspire hope. The 350 doctors, dozens of school principals, hundreds of academics, 35 writers and dozens of flight crew members who yesterday announced their refusal to fly the deportees are all to the good. In addition to their petitions, other wonderful initiatives have popped up, including one by Holocaust survivors who’ve expressed their willingness to conceal in their homes the targets of the hunt for human beings that has already begun.
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This is Israel’s big test, one of enormous importance. Without the ritual excuses of security and biblical allegories, this time it’s a simple test that will tell just how much the malignancy of racism has spread. Ultimately, it will show whether a significant humane core exists here, one with power and influence, or whether these are just isolated signals in the dark.
Besides protesting and refusing to cooperate, shaming – which hasn’t been effective in the fight against the occupation – shouldn’t be disregarded. In Israel the settlers, Shin Bet agents, soldiers and bureaucrats involved in the crimes of the occupation gain fame and adulation. But when it comes to deporting asylum seekers, the attitude should be different: denouncing all who have a hand in it. It should start, of course, with the politicians who came up with and spearheaded this plan. From Benjamin Netanyahu to Arye Dery and Gilad Erdan, to the stammering Avi Gabbay – all should bear the mark of disgrace. All the inciters who sowed fear and hatred of the Africans only to gain sympathy should be ashamed. There should be no forgiving or forgetting of all those who raised their hands in favor.
But the process of shaming and stigmatizing shouldn’t stop there. A vast apparatus is involved in sustaining the hunt, the incarceration and the deportation. All of its participants should be shamed. All those who answer the Immigration Authority’s want ads, which promised a 30,000-shekel bonus for success rates, should be made to feel ashamed. The wives of those who chase after black people should feel too ashamed to disclose their husband’s occupation. The children of Immigration Authority workers should be ashamed of their parents’ actions. Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who took the Hippocratic Oath, the director of the Immigration, Population and Border Authority, should be ashamed of his position. The Ethiopian translator who “interviewed” the Eritrean and told him “Rwanda is a good country now” (Haaretz, January 22) should be ashamed when she thinks about how she lied. The jailers of Saharonim Prison shouldn’t be able to look themselves in the mirror. The employees of the Refugee Status Determination unit who ostensibly review asylum requests, but never give a response, should be reluctant to tell their friends how they make a living. The employees of the Interior Ministry, who see refugees gathered outside their office from the middle of the night in the cold and rain to extend a visa, should look away in embarrassment.
Those who are trying to portray these wretched refugees as migrant laborers, and thereby justify their deportation, should be ashamed. As should those who try to question the fact that some of them were subjected to terrible torture on their way here. The employers who were quick to exploit the refugees and now are turning their backs on them and not offering them any help should be ashamed. It should be a huge source of shame to work for or collaborate with the deportations. Not every kind of work is worthy of respect.
The expulsion can be stopped. It’s up to Israeli civil society. It depends on its readiness to fight and sacrifice. After the appalling and depressing failure of the anti-occupation fight, perhaps the camp of conscience will at long last taste victory. If it proves impossible even to prevent the expulsion of tens of thousands of refugees, whom no one can genuinely say pose a danger to anything – except to racial purity -- then we’ll know that in Israel, truly, any abuse is possible. There’s nothing to stop it.