Over 800 Rabbis and other members of the Jewish clergy have signed a letter urging the Israeli government to reconsider its recent plans to deport thousands of African migrants and asylum seekers.
The letter, written by Jewish groups New Israel Fund, HIAS, T’ruah and Right Now, entreats Israel not to deport those seeking safety within its borders, and instead, “start living up to [its] international responsibilities.”
“We Jews know far too well what happens when the world closes its doors to those forced to flee their homes,” the groups wrote. “The asylum seekers who have come to Israel are escaping torture, enslavement and war. We’re angered by reports that many of those who have been deported back to Africa have already suffered rape, robbery, torture and human trafficking.”
Their letter goes on to urge the Israeli government to adhere to the guidelines laid out in the International Convention on the Status of Refugees, which include “providing asylum seekers a fair chance to file applications for refugee status and refraining from deporting asylum seekers to countries that can’t guarantee their safety.” They also demanded that the government begin reviewing these applications in a “fair and impartial” manner.
“Our own experience of slavery and liberation, and our own experience as refugees compel us to act with mercy and justice toward those seeking refuge among us,” they concluded. “Please affirm these Jewish values, as well as Israel’s international commitments, by stopping the deportations.”
So far, the letter has received nearly 900 signatures from those within the Jewish community.
The petition comes just days after the Israeli government announced a controversial new program aimed at clearing a large portion of its African migrant population. The country’s immigration authority has offered to pay Israeli citizens up to $8,000 for the location and capture of illegal migrants. That program came on the heels of another immigration policy by the government offering to pay thousands of migrants to leave and return to their own countries.
The incentive? A $3,500 payout from the Israeli government and a plane ticket to go back to their home. Migrants have until the end of March to take advantage of the program — or risk being thrown in jail.
Despite the backlash, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his deportation plans, saying, “Every country must monitor its borders.” In December, he also stated, “the overwhelming majority of the illegal migrants who’ve arrived in Israel over the past decade are neither refugees nor asylum seekers, but rather economic migrants who have come to Israel in search of work.”
There are an estimated 38,000 migrants living in Israel illegally, the nation’s immigration ministry reported, many of them from war-ravaged nations like Eritrea and South Sudan.