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Israel’s African Problem

Israel was founded on the belief that refugees deserve a safe haven. Does that apply to Jews only?

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A South Sudanese migrant family at the Immigration Population Authority office in Eilat on June 12, 2012. (Menhame Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
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Over the past few years, Israel has seen a dramatic increase in immigration—not of Jews, but of migrants from African nations like Eritrea, Sudan, and Ivory Coast. According to some estimates, there are now approximately 60,000 African migrants living in Israel, and their presence has given rise to tensions, particularly in the poor Tel Aviv neighborhoods where many of them have settled.

Now the government has embarked on a crackdown—not the first but certainly the toughest so far—deporting hundreds of migrants from South Sudan, which it says is safe enough for them to return to. Migrants from Ivory Coast are up next: This past Thursday, the government announced they have two weeks to leave voluntarily. Israeli officials argue that the deportations are necessary because the migrants are a burden and a threat to the country’s Jewish majority. Critics say the policy violates human rights, not to mention Jewish values.

Itamar Mann has worked directly with Israel’s African migrants as a co-founder of We Are Refugees, an organization providing pro bono counsel to asylum-seekers in Israel. But he also views immigrant questions from a wider perspective. Mann is a lawyer and a doctoral student at Yale University studying the history of refugee policies in Europe, the United States, and Australia. Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry speaks with Mann about the underlying causes of, and possible solutions to, Israel’s immigrant situation. [Running time: 16:44.] 

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It depends. Israel has too many problems to start taking in Muslims. But the fact that they are not Jews, or are black, should not enter into it.

    Africa says:

    they are not Jews, or are black’ is not a fact, can’t you differentiate race and religion?

Lisa Liel says:

They fact that they aren’t Jews should certainly enter into it. The world is full of non-Jews. Let them take care of themselves. To compare this to Jews fleeing the Nazis is inane. I don’t care if they’re black, white, or green.

Israel was not founded on the belief that refugees deserve a safe haven. God, I hate that victim-speak. israel was founded because Jews wanted to come home. Yes, some of them needed to come home, but the whole “Jewish history started in Auschwitz” neurosis is deeply offensive. Israel isn’t there for refugees; it’s there for the Jews. Period.

    You are very selfish! Africa was also made for Africans does that mean all Jews should move out back to Israel as much as i would love that? I am made to understand that Jews have a high IQ but i find yours lower than i expected!

      How many Jews live in Africa? I’m willing to guess that it’s not more, or not much more, than the 60,000 non-Jewish Africans living in Israel (this isn’t counting the Jewish Ethiopians who emigrated to Israel) – and Israel is one teensy tiny country vs. an entire huge continent of and for Africans.

        Africa says:

        Tens of thousands of Jews in Africa but we don’t bother counting because we want them to have a home. They’ve never had a home and probably never will. The last known person to offer them permanent residence was Hitler (the graves).

        60 000 is damn near 0% of the African population so I really don’t get your ‘ENTIRE HUGE CONTINENT’ bullshit. Because really a lot of countries have no interest whatsoever in Israel, a tiny country of and for Palestinians.

emunadate says:

I agree with Itamar Mann. Those whose human rights are being violated, which are few in number, should be allowed to stay until that situation changes. The big problem here is a mass immigration of muslim that would like to make Israel a minority in Israel…what would happen if Israel opened her boarders?

Sarah Willen says:

As a cultural anthropologist who has spent more than a decade studying transnational migration to Israel (i.e., of non-Jews seeking economic opportunity and/or political asylum), I find this to be a valuable, informative interview about a pressing issue with an important Israeli activist and scholar — and a terrible, racist headline. Tablet, you can do better!

World Global immigration is emerging as a BIG challenge! Is it about time EVERYONE went back to their country to solve it? All Africans outside Africa to go back to Africa, All Europeans and Asians likewise? Just wondering. How practical is it anyways? Fact is, world is changing and may be its better to adapt to the change than fight it. Interesting article.

As Jews we should well understand the need for a refuge!

PhillipNagle says:

If Israel is absorb African refugees, it will require further expansion into Judea and Samaria. To ask a country with as little land as Israel to absorb additional refugees in excess of their commitments is rediculous. It follows that to absorb more refugees more land is needed.

Please contact me for the real story. You warp the facts. I live in south tel aviv and these people are here to work. Period. A very small percentage are refugees. They operate illegal businesses, do not pay taxes and run crime rings. Why don’t u move here ? Then write about it. A few years ago I
Lived across from central park on the upper west side. Now in shchunat ha’tikva. It’s very easy to spread warped reports from the comfort of your air conditioned offices in
Midtown manhattan. The liberals from North tel aviv whine about how we need to provide these people with food and shelter but none of them would take these folks into their homes. All hypocrites if you ask me.

Alex G
Deep South Tel Aviv

bobschwalbaum says:

Israel certainly has every right in the world to limit in-migration to authentic Jews.. Remember.. there are a good many black Jews.
As to blending.. have you ever been to NY’s Harlem?
I happened to take a wriong turn once in upper Manhattan.. and found myself on Martin Luther King Ave…. and unfriendly stares from the local populace

paul delano says:

Israel was re-established as the refuge and homeland of the Jewish people. Not as the destination for hordes of Africans seeking economic opportunity. A simple distinction which seems to escape those clinging to delusional Liberal-left talking points.

It must not be ignored that Israel is a Jewish State and it must remain so no matter what the cost. The country is small, land limited, resources are limited as well. As small as the Jewish world population is Israel must always have the ability to take in one of it’s own. If social welfare resources are required they must be available for the Jew. Politically as well as in population numbers the Jew must be and remain the majority. If one accepts what I have stated as a given then there is no other way to handle things than deport whatever group that appears to upset the balance.

is the answer to the “Jewish refugee problem” and not of the world’s
job searchers from Africa or from Europe. Israel is the national state of the
Jewish people, that’s why is open to every Jew. In that
case Eritrea should be the state of Eritreans as
Britain the state of the British. Please don’t switch the reality of this
tale. On the other hand Israel adopt refugees that escaped their state but
don’t mix both cases.

you hear that some European state had already started the deportation
of African back to Africa or to close them in detentions camps? They do it in
much higher numbers but the press fails to cover it!

Can you imagine how fast Israel and the Jewish
World changed in the last 50 years? Now imagine that the same pace continues.

The World is on the move. We have to adapt to
new realities, but we can do it in a good way. Where is the Great Jewish Mind?
Why not benefit from a part of those people who come to Israel because they love
Israel. A seemingly disadvantage has to be turned around to an advantage.

To some we should give the tools to build up their own country and send them
back in an orderly way and as ambassadors for Israel and for future good
relations with the Jewish state (like used to be the foreign policy of Golda

Others, who feel connected to the Jewish
people and the Jewish identity of the state should be absorbed into Judaism,
and believe me there are many.

Recently a group of Igbo from Nigeria who
converted to Orthodox Judaism have been deported. They gave everything to
uphold the Jewish nature of the state. Their connection could have served as an
example instead of treating them as a threat.


George Weiss says:

lisa liel’s complaining about “hating victim speak” and all others: i grew up surrounded by holocaust survivors complaining about a “world that did not care to help the jews”. – Its not victim speak, its “victor”- speak, the tone of a final win over one’s own ego in the name of solidarity against rascism: if you want the world to act differently, you have to lead by example. At the time of the crisis involving the “boat people”that fled from vietnam to Hong Kong, Abie Nathan rented a jumbo jet and flew 200 of them over to tel aviv, forcing the government to take them in against their will. Many people like me were inspired by that action, showing the world how jews could lead by example indeed. Now it seems like, instead of changing the world for the better, we jews make every effort to change a new generation of Israeli jews for the worst instead, -trying to help them be like the Le Pens, the Haiders, the Wilders and all those new extreme right wingers who fight against foreigners in very rascist ways and , like Anders Brevik, proclaim the Jewish state as their new hero country.

nicky harris says:

As Jews we know what it is like to be refugees seeking a better life. These people are trying to escape their horrible lives. We have to show that we care about them and treat them with respect. Surely there must be a new way of dealing with asylum seekers and refugees that will secure Israel as the Jewish homeland and also treat them in a way that can show the world a new way and perhaps a model. There needs to be a policy that reflects the values that Israel wishes to espouse.

Israel was NOT founded on the belief that refugees deserve a safe haven. Israel was founded on the belief that Jews should enjoy the right of self-determination in their homeland. By definition, that applies only to Jews.

Israel was NOT founded on the belief that refugees deserve a safe haven. Israel was founded on the belief that Jews should enjoy the right of self-determination in their homeland. By definition, that applies only to Jews.

Umish Katani says:

in one simple word YES for us only. ….let the rest of the world take in the poor huddled masses… The world would never take us in… We need our own place. Done!

This boy is so proud to talk… Come South T”A, stay here. Not too deep – some Florentin. Your bike will be stolen together with 2 chains. And another one just from apartment. Take a look – young black man running away with your iphone.
I understand all reasons why this man came here. But why do I need to pay for it? Even deportation – i’ll pay for it as well.
Yes, i loved my iphone, not funny at all… Emotional traumatised… And bikes… I hope they sent this money home and i helped one starving family. .. .

Carol Mizrahi says:

The world is topsy turvey. The hated, despised “zionist entity,” the place the NYTimes, the lefty media, the U.N., the rabid rabid condemn as racist, undemocratic is the place that when in need…. refugees flee to. What? Are they crazy? Why would they think Isrel is a safe haven? Why don’t they rush to one of the other African countries? Surely closer friendlier safer borders are open to them…..???????? What is it I don’t understand?

Does it apply to Jews only? No it applies to Jews first. Israel has obligation to its African Jews and has gone to great lengths to repatriate them. It is a Jewish state but many of these Africans are moslems who have been rejected by moslem countries. They trekked through Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Sudan etc. Why wouldn’t those countries take them? For the same reason that Israel is not taking them. They are not Jews and two generations from now they will be numerous enough to make a difference in the Jewish character of Israel. If these Africans were Jews, it would be different because this is the only refuge for Jews on the planet and it is a small and contested refuge. These Africans seek refuge in many other countries on the planet.


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Israel’s African Problem

Israel was founded on the belief that refugees deserve a safe haven. Does that apply to Jews only?

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