"…No one is demanding that 55,000 African migrants be given full citizenship anytime soon, only that they receive legal status and be allowed to work, to pay taxes, to live in decent homes outside their cramped hovels near the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and that they be protected from exploitation by rapacious employers.…" But even this is far beyond what Israel is willing to do, and far beyond what the American Jewish community expects Israel to do – and that speaks volumes about the Jewish community's moral failure.
In Ha'aretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes about the the African asylum seekers forced out of Israel by the government and then slaughtered by ISIS in Libya. He notes that the wall Prime Minister Netanyahu had built between Sinai and Israel has stopped African asylum seekers from coming to to Israel, but Israel has done next to nothing to help the approximately 50,000 African asylum seekers who got into Israel before the wall was built – many when entire IDF units chose to disobey government orders to turn back the starving refugees and let them die in the desert:
…Israel’s politicians are apparently incapable of devising a humane arrangement for the [African] migrants. With the exception of a tiny group of activists, Israelis are not demanding that they do so. And while the racist claims against them are inexcusable – the asylum seekers are not agents of crime or disease – the residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv demanding their removal have a point: Adding 50,000 unemployed migrants to one of the city’s poorest areas is begging for trouble.
All this raises the question, how is it that world Jewry has yet to wake up to this travesty?…American Jews, in particular, have a record here. There is no question that the lobbying and funding efforts of the Jewish community of North America forced successive Israeli governments to resume bringing the Falashmura from Ethiopia. Of course, many Israelis will say it’s not the same. The Falashmura are Jews, and Israel has a duty to rescue and gather in Jews from around the world.
Setting aside the question of whether the descendants of Ethiopians who converted to Christianity a century ago should suddenly be considered Jewish only because they can now leave Africa…[t]he African migrants, in contrast, are already here. Many have already learned Hebrew, and since they had no government support, no absorption centers, they learned how to get by in Israel the hard way.…
No one is demanding that 55,000 African migrants be given full citizenship anytime soon, only that they receive legal status and be allowed to work, to pay taxes, to live in decent homes outside their cramped hovels near the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and that they be protected from exploitation by rapacious employers.
Sadly, none of the parties likely to join Netanyahu’s new government is about to make solving the migrant tragedy a condition for supporting the coalition. Not even the Labor Party, whose participation now seems almost inevitable. Party leaders will walk out over who gets to be deputy religious services minister, but not to save the lives of 55,000 foreign nationals who can’t vote. On the other hand, right after the election is the best time to press the new government on the issue, because neither are there votes to be lost. Focused lobbying by influential Jewish-American groups for a reasonable solution that will allow the migrants to remain can succeed.
This could be a shining moment for Israel-Diaspora relations. Explain the obvious to Israelis, without rancor. God knows, you have enough media experts to craft the message. Explain that a country of 8.345 million, with a strong economy and low unemployment, can easily absorb a peaceful community of 55,000 grateful guest workers.
This isn’t about politics or PR, it’s just common sense. Call it tikkun olam if you like, call it humanism or Zionism or Jewish values, whatever works. This is a global humanitarian crisis, but it is our crisis as well. And at least the part of it that is in our little corner of the world can be solved, and now is the time to do it.
Pfeffer's attempt to get the American Jewish community's leadership to act morally and act now is admirable, but it will likely fall on deaf ears. Why? New York City's UJA-Federation sets the tone for the American Jewish community's relationship with Israel. The New York Federation is heavily influenced by Modern Orthodox Jews who essentially control it. While they may be modern, they're still Orthodox and, as such are not much different than haredim when it comes to the desire to have only "pure" Jews live in Israel.
African asylum seekers are not Jewish.
The Falashmura were only helped because NACOEJ, the pro-Ethiopian Jewish advocacy organization based in Manhattan, is controlled by Modern Orthodox Jews. If that were not the case, the Federation would not have pushed Israel to help them and it would not have given millions of dollars to resettle them.
In other words, put bluntly, to the official leadership of the American Jewish community, the lives of desperate non-Jewish African refugees only matter if they don't foul up Israel's ethnic purity. If these African asylum seekers are allowed to stay in Israel, some will inevitably marry Jews or cohabit with Jews, and the UJA-Federation will never do anything that would facilitate such miscegenation.
In fact, that was position of the UJA and the Federations with regard to Ethiopian Jews in the decades before Operation Moses. They didn't really consider these Black Africans to be Jewish and didn't want them mixing with "pure" Jews. (True, they weren't stupid enough to say this publicly, but in the years I worked on this issue, I heard the sentiment expressed by both American Jewish and Israeli leaders, which is why I worked so hard to get prominent haredi and Orthodox rabbis like Moshe Feinstein to back a rescue of Ethiopian Jews. I thought their backing would overcome much of this prejudice.)
I've written this before but it's worth restating: no Jew should ever complain about what the US or Great Britain could have done for Jews during the early part of WW2 but didn't do. We are no different the the government that turned away the St. Louis or that denied visas. No different at all.