As protest marches continue in Israel, drawing attention to the plight of the approximately 50,000 African asylum seekers, Ameinu, North America’s largest grassroots progressive Zionist organization, joined with 14 other Jewish groups in calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement asylum policies that are consistent with Israeli court rulings, international law obligations and core Jewish values. “As Jews and as Zionists, we understand the centrality of the principle of welcoming the stranger,” declared Kenneth Bob, Ameinu’s National President. “Israel has been a refuge for generations of Jews fleeing persecution and we will not accept a situation where Israel turns its back on Eritreans, Sudanese and others who have come to the Jewish state seeking protection.”
“The government of Israel has abdicated just leadership and has failed to commit itself to meeting its national and international obligations towards migrants. We call on Israel to create a viable and just asylum system to distinguish between refugees and individuals seeking to migrate for purely economic reasons. We also decry the charade of a prison where migrants can be held indefinitely masquerading as an ‘open facility,’” Bob added.
“The Jewish people know too well what it means to be displaced and to wander the earth searching for a safe-haven,” said Gideon Aronoff, Ameinu’s CEO “Ameinu will continue to raise our voice and join with our progressive Zionist and other Jewish partners in the Diaspora, as well as with tireless Israeli NGOs and activists, to defend asylum seekers in Israel. This effort is at the heart of our worldwide Jewish campaign to protect refugees and other vulnerable immigrants wherever they are — in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Europe – and certainly in Israel.”
A copy of the letter is included below:
Acting Adviser to the Prime Minister for Diaspora Affairs
Prime Minister’s Bureau
3 Kaplan St. Hakirya
February 9, 2014
Dear Mr. Schachter,
Thank you for your January 8, 2014 response to our letter of November 24, 2103. We appreciate the Office of the Prime Minister taking the time to respond to our concerns about asylum seekers and migrants in Israel.
Since our letter of November 24, peaceful demonstrations by tens of thousands of African asylum seekers drew the world’s attention to the new detention regime being implemented by the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA). We are concerned that these actions not only draw attention to Israel’s delay in fully implementing asylum policies consistent with decisions of Israel’s own independent judiciary and its international law obligations, but also will harm Israel’s standing in Africa and have an unfavorable effect on public opinion in the U.S. towards Israel, as well.
PIBA has opened and begun to order African migrants, including asylum seekers, to move to the Holot facility in the Negev. While officially labeled as an “open” reception facility, recent accounts suggest that Holot is virtually indistinguishable from a minimum security prison, where residents may be held indefinitely without judicial review. Such indefinite detention stands in contrast with the September 2013 ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice.
As steadfast friends of Israel, dedicated to its security and identity as a just and compassionate society, we urge the government to institute a comprehensive, impartial system to manage the stable population of current asylum seekers and any who may make their way across its borders in the future. This would include implementing a fair refugee status determination system with clear procedural timeframes and transparent decision-making in accordance with Israel’s obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. We write to reiterate this point and the other recommendations in our November 24 letter.
We are also concerned that the government has continued to characterize all asylum seekers as “infiltrators” and “illegal work migrants” and made deliberate efforts to make them feel unwelcome and if at all possible to “self-deport.” Despite extensive training provided by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the US Department of Homeland Security, HIAS, and other experts, the National Status Granting Body has decided very few of the cases pending before it, and has approved less than 1% of them. As you know, Israel has the lowest asylum approval rate in the developed world. Israeli asylum officers have been further instructed to reject the claims of Eritreans fleeing their country’s repressive military service, standing in contrast to the international recognition of these claims at rates above 80%. We note that, in December 2013, UNHCR issued guidelines on military service evasion in the context of refugee adjudications. These guidelines should be applied in Israel as elsewhere.
Israel was one of the original signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. We urge the Prime Minister’s office to demonstrate to the world that Israel, the Jewish state, upholds international human rights obligations, humanitarian principles, and Jewish teachings, including to “love the stranger as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34) and to “not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Such steps would reinforce Israel’s proud reputation as a country built by Jewish refugees and governed by Jewish, democratic and universal values.
In alphabetical order
Gideon Aronoff, Chief Executive Officer, Ameinu
Gal Peleg Laniado, Central Shaliach, Hashomer Hatzair North America
Kali Silverman, Director, Habonim Dror North America
Mark Hetfield, President and CEO, HIAS
E. Robert Goodkind, Chair, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of AJC
Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Rita Freedman, Acting Executive Director, Jewish Labor Committee
Mary Ann Stein, President, The Moriah Fund
Rabbi David Rosenn, Executive Vice President, New Israel Fund
Nathan Hersh, Acting Executive Director, Partners for Progressive Israel
Shauna Leven, Director, René Cassin
Maya Paley, Founder, Right Now
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Rabbi Jason Klein, President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association