Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →