REVISED: J Street Welcomes Agreement on African Migrants

April 2, 2018

Netanyahu’s cancellation of the migrant agreement is an act of cowardice and a moral disgrace.

An agreement between Israel and the UN refugee agency to avert the forcible mass deportation of thousands of mainly Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants from Israel to other countries in Africa is welcome news and a victory for Jewish and universal human values. We commend the Israeli government for reaching a positive solution to this humanitarian problem.

Under the reported agreement, Israel will offer a permanent home to around 16,000 of these asylum seekers while an equal number will be resettled in western nations. However, Haaretz reported that currently more than 39,000 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea live in Israel, so the fate of the remaining 6,500 remains unclear.

We urge that a similar resolution is reached regarding them so that these people can begin to rebuild their lives.

The agreement creates a special body to improve living conditions in south Tel Aviv, where many asylum seekers live. Migrants who will be absorbed by Western countries will be allowed to work in Israel until they leave, while those who stay will be granted legal status, a visa and eventual residency status.

The Netanyahu government’s plan to deport these migrants against their will to an uncertain fate in Rwanda and Uganda aroused deep opposition both within Israel and around the world. Those who refused to be deported faced indefinite imprisonment.

In Israel, thousands of citizens took to the streets to oppose the plan, mobilized and backed by a wide coalition of civic and non-governmental organizations. Internationally, many Jewish organizations and individual leaders called the plan a direct affront to deeply-held Jewish values and especially objectionable in the light of the history of the Jewish people who have so often been the victims of mass expulsions. Leaders from other communities, such as Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, also urged Israel to find a just and compassionate resolution for the asylum seekers.

This outcome shows that when so many voices are lifted in righteous indignation, governments are forced to pay heed and to reverse course.

We echo the sentiments of Mickey Gitzin of the New Israel Fund, who said that it is a day of triumph for civil organizations and the Israeli public who had fought hard against the deportations. It is especially fitting that this agreement was reached during Passover – the festival of freedom.