Monday, January 17, 2011

Arlene Kushner On Israel's African Immigration Problem

This is one of those articles that Arlene Kushner writes that just lays out the issue so that it is easier to get a perspective
January 16, 2011

"Hurray for Us!"

A couple of corrections from yesterday's post, both date-related:

I do hope it was obvious that Irving Moskowitz bought the Shepherd Hotel in 1985. Since it wasn't constructed until 1935, it would have been a tad difficult for him to have bought it in 1885, as I had inadvertently written.

And the proper date for that posting is January 15 (Motzei Shabbat), and not January 13, as written. This was a case of my having started it on the 13th and then forgetting to change the date when I sent it out.


As to that Hurray:

The NY Times reported today that Israel, working with the US, tested the Stuxnet virus at the Dimona nuclear facility, using centrifuges similar to those found in Iran.

It was clear enough that we had to be involved -- and the speculation has been that it might have been Israel working in concert with the US -- so this report rings true. The Times says that President George W. Bush authorized this project as a way to forestall an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.


I want to begin to touch on a number of issues here that are both problematic and controversial -- issues that I've tabled until now because of focus on other pressing matters (such as our rights in eastern Jerusalem).

The very first of these is the serious matter of African immigrants/refugees -- primarily from Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea -- who have been entering our country illegally, crossing into the Negev from the Sinai. Thousands are here now, and they keep coming.

The subject is far too complex for me to do it full justice in this posting, but I believe I would be remiss if I did not, finally, at least provide an overview of the situation.


The supreme irony is that at the very same time that we are accused of genocide and apartheid and whatever else, the word has gone out in Africa that we in Israel treat Africans more humanely than other nations, and that this is the most promising place to come to. Well, we are the most humane. But we are a very small nation and cannot cope with this indefinitely.


Several problems confront us. One is the expense and the logistical nightmare of providing for them. Many have settled in the south of Tel Aviv, alarming and angering the local residents who say they cannot recognize their neighborhoods any longer, as the immigrants, often at loose ends and struggling, hang out on the street until all hours, drinking, smoking, and making noise. Not to mention -- this is the simple fact of the matter -- that the crime rate has gone way up in that area.

We have children here, Israeli citizens, who struggle below the poverty line and should be provided for. As well, there are other segments of our society that require special attention and services, all of which means expenditure of funds. Where would the funds come from, to provide for this influx of foreigners as well? (Much that is done for them now, informally, is on a volunteer and NGO basis, with people helping them find a place to live and to learn Hebrew. Some infiltrators work without papers.)

But another issue of critical importance is the fact that we are, and must remain, the Jewish state. This is Israel's raison d'etre, without question. It's what we are about.

A considerable influx of mostly Muslim Africans -- there are already 15,000 to 20,000 here and 100 to 200 more are coming every week -- would have the troubling and unacceptable effect of shifting the demographics and the culture down the road. Our entire population is 7.7 million, with 20% of this number Arab.

Ultimately, the current situation is unacceptable for us and we need to be unapologetic about this. Yaakov Katz, head of National Union, gave voice to this when he asked, "Is this what we wanted when we built Tel Aviv [a quintessentially Jewish city]? That it should be an African City?"

And there are other problems: Some are genuine refugees, fleeing from persecution at home, and desperately needing a place to go because their lives are at risk. A more legitimate case can be made for taking them in. But others are simply seeking better economic circumstances, yet often claim persecution in order to bolster their chances of being permitted to remain here. How to differentiate one from the other? All indications are that a solid majority of the Africans here have come for purposes of economic betterment.

Add to this the fact that Sudan is hostile to Israel and that there is the possibility of trouble-makers if not terrorists infiltrating with the refugees (and yes, where there are legitimate refugees they may well be from Sudan).

Not a simple situation, at all.


These immigrants/refugees have their defenders here, of course. A coordinator for one advocacy group calls attempts to keep the infiltrators out "inhumane and illegal," and says such action would mean that Israel was "violating its international responsibilities."

Excuse me? I find myself more than a bit irked by this bleeding-heart nonsense. Israel is a nation of immigrants like none other. In its early days it managed to absorb some 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim states. In more recent days, Israel airlifted 14,500 Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa in less than 48 hours. Stunning stuff. Every nation in the world should be as responsible as we have consistently been in this regard.

Let some other nation with a larger area and greater population open its doors to these immigrants/refugees.


What to do about this? There are no simple answers.

A fence is supposed to be built along the 160 km. border between the Sinai and the Negev -- or along part of it, at any rate, with listening devices and such monitoring the remainder. Construction on it has begun, but completion isn't expected for a couple of years.

A handful -- a few hundred -- infiltrators were returned to their native land not long ago, allegedly with their consent, and with cash in hand. No one expects this approach to provide the full solution, but one of the hopes is that word will start to get out that going into Israel is not necessarily the best thing to do. That's a key to slowing the flood of people headed our way.

Putting them in prison -- as they are here illegally -- has been suggested as another way to cool their ardor for coming here. But I don't know that this would play.


The Eritrean Ambassador to Israel, Debbas Tesfamariam Tekeste, gave an interview on this subject to YNet recently [here].

"The solution was very simple from the outset, at the end of 2006 – the first one to arrive should have been sent back to Eritrea," he said. But now it's too late.

Eritrean citizens infiltrating Israel via Egypt are not refugees, but work migrants, he insisted. "We consider them guests invited by Israel. By deciding not to deport them from the get-go, you have created an ever-growing phenomenon of Eritreans seeking to improve their quality of life and reach Israel."

If an Eritrean citizen shows up at the embassy and asks to come back home, he will be offered assistance, Debbas said. But "if someone is forced to return from Israel against his will we shall refuse. These are people with different dreams and expectations, they will undermine national morale and bring back with them frustration and bitterness..."

Apparently Eritrean children learn about Israel in school and get the idea of coming here from an early age.

Debbas addressed the possibility of a security threat from a different perspective: "When these people arrive in Sudan or the Sinai anyone can manipulate them into brining a bomb into Israel or performing acts of espionage."


So, is the lesson here that we are too nice?


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution

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