From Our Chief Executive: February 2018
Something inspiring and perhaps unprecedented is happening in Israel right now. The shift in government policy – to force African asylum seekers to choose between deportation and indefinite imprisonment – has driven more and more Israelis to speak out against this injustice. We have been concerned at the treatment of asylum seekers in Israel for a long time, but never have we seen such a huge mobilisation of Israelis behind the issue.
I wrote to you last week to give some examples: the letters and petitions from Israeli rabbis, doctors, school headteachers and other cultural figures imploring Netanyahu to rethink the policy. Then there were the pilots refusing to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda, and the Holocaust survivors, rabbis, and Israelis from every walk of life who have offered to shelter the asylum seekers from authorities should the need arise. One Knesset Member even took to the Knesset dais to announce that he would open up his own home.
This wave of outrage – and the call for Israel’s leaders to act in a more moral and responsible manner – is what can happen when politicians misjudge the Israeli public. It can create a moment that galvanizes Israelis to take a stand for democratic values, and to overlook differences in pursuit of a mutual and honourable goal.
In this newsletter you will read about some of the work being done to try to force the Israeli government to rethink or scale down their plans. The New Israel Fund is committed to supporting this work. We approved £45,000 in emergency funding to various organisations that are either leading the public campaign against the deportations or providing vital services to the asylum seeker community.
Our partner organisation ‘Hotline for Refugees and Migrants’, for example, have been working tirelessly over the past couple of weeks to provide asylum seekers with the resources and assistance they need. At the same time, our grantee ‘Zazim – Community Action’ have responded to the crisis by asking Israeli pilots to refuse to take part in deportations. Their petition has gathered over 10,000 signatures.
In the UK, what I have been inspired by most is the strength and depth of concern raised by our community on this issue. The response to our recent appeal has been unprecedented and I have had many enlightening conversations with supporters and donors on the issue.
One particularly powerful example of the traction this issue has gained in the UK is the 65 rabbis, cantors and rabbinic students who signed a letter raising their voices against the deportation. I was privileged to go with a delegation of these rabbis to the Israeli Embassy to deliver the letter and to share concerns.
What struck me most was that the rabbis who delivered the letter have not always seen eye to eye with regards to Israeli politics. Indeed, many have – in the past – felt uncomfortable about publicly criticising the government and its policy positions. Yet all felt a prevailing sense of religious and moral responsibility to ‘speak with one voice’ and call the government out on this issue. They made it very clear that forced deportations are incompatible with their religious values.
Of course, we don’t know if this outcry will succeed in stopping the deportations. We don’t know whether the Israeli government will back down or whether the High Court will block their plans. But what we do know is that we will continue to support this work. The moral imperative is clear, and the opportunity to support Israelis working to make their country live up to the best of Jewish and universal values in undeniable.
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