Israel and Protecting Refugees

July 1, 2012 12:01 am 2 comments

Israeli students and Sudanese refugees dialogue about the coming days. Photo: Ron Cantrell.

Israel, like many other developed countries has a migrant problem. As in most European countries, poor people from near and far come to find work, opportunity and a better life. Israelis and Jews around the world identify with that aspiration and even sometimes, desperation. Most of us are only a generation removed from wandering, escaping and seeking refuge. That is why, over the years, Israel has consistently played a positive role in protecting groups and individuals during times of war, hunger and strife.

As a charter party to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Israel has taken this responsibility seriously. It famously offered safety to Vietnamese boat people in 1977, to refugees from the war in Kosovo in 1999 and in recent years to hundreds of people from Ivory Coast, Liberia and Congo. These were groups who were protected in Israel during times of danger in their home countries. Often, when the conflict or danger passed, people were able to quietly return home. This Israeli humanitarian hospitality was offered in addition to the absorption, over the years, of Jewish refugees from dozens of countries from Iraq to Yemen to the former Soviet Union as full citizens.

In recent years, thousands of Sudanis and Eritrians have travelled, often by foot and often by paying large sums to human traffickers, through Egypt and across the Sinai desert into Israel. Thus far, at the request of the United Nations, Israel has allowed all to remain with none put at risk. This includes Muslims from Sudan, a country run by despots that call for Israel’s destruction, others from Darfur and Christians from newly independent South Sudan. Still others have left Eritrea, one of the most dark regimes in the world today.

In South Sudan, the situation has changed. While still not a developed country, it is now independent and for the most part safe. Like many other countries, Israel has determined, in consultation with both the office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees and with the local government, that the danger has passed and people, without specific individual refugee claims, can return home. That position was recently approved by an Israeli Court and will begin to be carried out in the coming weeks.

Today, Israel, a small state of just over seven million in one of the most sensitive regions in the world, continues to uphold its obligations both in accordance with international law and Israeli legislation. Not one individual has been deported so that he or she could be seen to have a well founded of persecution. Instead, Israel, in close cooperation with the UN, has been developing a process for reviewing individual cases and offers protection when needed.

All of this is not to say that Israel is perfect or has handled every situation perfectly. The dilemmas of protecting the rights of refugees in Israel while not encouraging thousands of others to join them are real. How to ensure the difficult balance, as is often faced in Europe, between the local community and the needs of the migrants, as done reasonably is an enormous challenge. For Israel, this remains a work in progress and it remains committed to acting responsibly and in accordance with international standards.

Over the years and on a wide range of topics from sending doctors to Haiti, rescue crews to Turkey and aiding agricultural development and fighting AIDS in Africa, Israel has seen itself as a serious and willing participant in the international community. The Jewish ideal of “tikun olam” is a real aspect of Israel’s foreign policy and its role as a constructive global partner. Facing the challenges of both protecting refugees and repatriating migrants when possible fits firmly within this view. We can be proud of our humanitarian achievements while ensuring that Israel continues to protect its citizens and those that seek safety in our country.

Arthur Lenk is Director of the Department of International Law at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

2 Comments

  • Bring the refugees to the U.S. and they will be cared for thus Israel’s problem will be solved.

  • When reading about this problem of refugees in the LA Times and when talking about it,the problem seems like Israel is doing something positive, but that the amount of people coming in the country is just too many to absorb. It would be interesting now to follow and see how many really leave with the declaration that Sudan is safe.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz said on Wednesday that he will not eat anything between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday in observation of Yom Kippur, ESPN reported. “If I was playing, I wouldn’t fast, because I’ve got to be able to fuel myself to play,” said the Jewish athlete, who is on short-term leave due to a toe injury. “But it’s not that tough, really. I’ll eat dinner at 5:00 Friday, then I’ll go to services and I’ll just [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.