US Jewish groups ratchet up calls on Israel not to expel African migrants


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, is the latest Jewish organization to call on Israel’s government not to expel tens of thousands of Africans seeking asylum status.

A number of liberal Jewish groups, chief among them HIAS, the lead Jewish immigration advocacy group, has decried Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recently announced plans to force some 38,000 migrants to choose between expulsion and jail. Most now move freely in the country and are able to study and do some jobs.

“We urge the government to suspend its plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who entered the country between 2007-12, and develop a comprehensive policy for non-Jewish asylum-seekers that safeguards human dignity and human rights, in compliance with Israel’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention,” said a statement Tuesday from the JCPA, which is consensus driven. “We believe that such a policy would ensure Israel’s security, and honor Israel’s values as a compassionate, Jewish and democratic state.”

The JCPA statement, coupled with a letter to Netanyahu sent jointly this week by HIAS and the Anti-Defamation League along with past Reform movement statements, suggest that the Jewish community’s centrist bodies are ready to speak more vocally against the plans.

“As American Jews, one of our greatest concerns is the well-being and security of Israel; we want to see it prosper and overcome all of the challenges its precarious location imposes on it,” said the ADL-HIAS letter. “We also care about our shared Jewish values and refugee heritage — a very human concern that reaches across borders and distances — and unifies us as a people.”

Some 60,000 asylum seekers from countries torn by war and suffering under repressive regimes arrived in Israel between 2007 and 2012, when Israel built a fence along the border with Egypt that ended the influx. About 20,000 of them have taken up an Israeli offer to leave for African destinations with several thousand dollars of cash. Many of these have reportedly been robbed and kidnapped into slavery, and in some cases murdered.