Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

HIAS finally speaks up for African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 30, 2012

It was in February that this blog asked when US refugee resettlement agencies would speak out against the Israeli government’s increasing campaign of hatred against African asylum seekers. Now, three months later, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has finally issued a statement condemning the incitement. An article at JTA has the story:

WASHINGTON (JTA) — More U.S. Jewish organizations are condemning anti-African migrant riots in Tel Aviv.

Among those weighing in on last week’s riots during a protest against the large numbers of African migrants living in the city were the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the New Israel Fund, the American Jewish Committee, J Street and the National Council of Jewish Women.

“Some Israeli politicians and leaders have characterized the migrants in negative terms, referring to them as ‘infiltrators’ and ‘occupiers,’ and the Israeli government itself has at times threatened to start mass deportations,” HIAS said in its statement. “Such harmful characterizations have continued even in the context of the government’s condemnation of the xenophobic riots.”… Read more here

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Dorit Eldar-Avidan, who teaches at the Program for Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University, writes in Haaretz about the striking similarities – hatred of the other, the stranger and the weak – between pre-Holocaust Europe and the abuse of asylum seekers in Israel:

…Mass demonstrations, stiff-arm salutes, the shouting, incitement, frenzied rioting, smashing of windows, humiliation, marking of stores and homes, violence, deportation. These were the ultimate existential threats that touched my life because they had blighted the lives of my parents, their parents, and our whole family.

And now the existential threat is here, in my own home. It is in the front yard of the first Hebrew city, among the demonstrators calling for deportation…

…To my horror, I find myself on the side of evil, the side of the rioters…these are the people who are supposed to be my own brothers, the ones who are supposed to be on my side of the equation, those who supposedly share with me a common future and heritage, a culture and historical memory. They are on the side that smashes and curses and attacks and whips itself up into a frenzy…

…It is easy to cling to sociological explanations, to talk about years of hardship and feelings of discrimination in Tel Aviv, about the distorted interpretation of nationalism in Jerusalem.

But are these not the very same excuses and explanations for what happened “there”? Unemployment, hardship, envy of the other, national aspirations – these were what encouraged the forces of evil and allowed blame to be cast upon the Communists, the Gypsies, the Jews…

…And they are not alone, these marchers and screamers, these rioters and kindergarten-torchers, these window-smashers and cursers, and this is not just “the street.” During the celebrations in Jerusalem they received support from most of the Israelis, by the government and the mayor. In Tel Aviv-Jaffa they received the backing from mayors of six more cities, led by the mayor of Tel Aviv, and they are not ashamed to publish ads calling for imprisonment and deportation…

…Where did they learn this, all these recruiters of hatred and evil? What did they forget from their history classes, from the individual and collective memories of the darkest period in Jewish history, as they made their way to these stages and stormy streets?

It is the same hatred of the other, the stranger and the weak that is being directed against Sudanese refugees, Eritreans, labor migrants, or Palestinians…the shouts of “Cancer among us” directed at African refugees. Hatred is hatred. It is poisoned and it poisons those who hate… Read more here

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