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 Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.