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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Talking to an African... about Africans

Some of you may recall a couple of posts I wrote about a wonderful visit we had about four years ago from a regular reader of this blog who happens to call Kenya his home.

Well, I've remained in touch with this young man over the years, and as a voracious consumer of news related to Israel, he has obviously been following with keen interest the various stories concerning the flood of Africans who have crossed into Israel and whose treatment/fate is now at the center of a heated national debate here.

For those who haven't been following the news, there is a growing number of illegal immigrants from Africa who have become the focus of a national discussion/argument.  Some say they are legitimate asylum seekers who should be granted refugee status, while others say that the majority are simply illegal infiltrators seeking better opportunities than what they left in Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, etc..

The reason this has come to the front of public discourse is the growing number of crimes that are being committed by these indigent Africans, not to mention the enormous strain they are placing on the country's security and social welfare infrastructures.

I've exchanged a few emails with my African correspondent to try to explain my own feelings on the matter.  But you can imagine that any discussion of this topic with someone who was born and raised in Africa is fraught with potential landmines.  He's asked me some very difficult questions about how plans to deport these Africans fits in with Jewish ethics and Israel's self-identity as a moral/just 'light unto the nations'.

I'm curious how some of you feel about this... and would ask you to couch your comments as if trying to explain your position to an African (which, in this case, you are).

I'll share my thoughts later in the thread or in tomorrow's post.

Posted by David Bogner on May 30, 2012 | Permalink

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If only Israel had the resources to welcome every desperate person seeking his home in a free country. Yet it is clearly impossible for the tiny Jewish state to permit unlimited immigration.

Israel remains morally superior to the many other countries which are unwilling to rescue even a few African refugees. In Egypt, border guards shoot or beat to death those who have escaped war zones or extreme poverty in their own countries even though these people are in the act of LEAVING Egypt. Israel does not bar their doors against these suffering human beings. The IDF helps people to enter Israel; and gets them first aid and food. Nor are they immediately deported. Jewish ethics prioritizes saving the life of anyone, not just other Jews.

But nowhere in Jewish ethics does it say to take rights away from the citizens and legal immigrants in order to provide more services to the illegal ones. Aren't there any other countries willing to provide refuge to African immigrants?

The question is not why doesn't Israel do more; but why do other countries do so little to help their fellow man.

Posted by: iro | May 31, 2012 5:05:56 PM

No nation can allow unlimited immigration. Doing so threatens that nation's character, culture and institutions. It also places a considerable burden on that nation's fiscal health. An Israel full of impoverished Africans would cease to be Israel. It would become just another poor African nation. No one would benefit. It would be better for the Africans to stay home and work to change their circumstances with nations like Israel assisting with funds, technology and know-how.

Posted by: Karl | May 31, 2012 5:18:21 PM

I believe you have to have a blanket policy (such as, "we deport illegal aliens") in place and review each individual case where they seek asylum. Are these African refugees Jews seeking a new life in Israel? Are they fleeing under the threat of immediate death if they stay (or return) to their African nation? Do they pose any threat to the safety of Israeli citizens? Would they add to the Israeli society if they stay permanently?

I see many similarities to the American issue of illegal immigration here. We have accepted and enabled so many illegal aliens that we're on the verge of fiscal collapse in places. I read an article recently that an estimated 70% of the children on Illinois' welfare medical insurance program are illegal aliens. How are the citizens of Illinois supposed to pay for so many illegals?? They are granted in-state tuition (why?), free (or nearly free) medical insurance, day care assistance, etc. The list goes on and on and the State is now an estimated $9 billion in debt. What's worse is that we recently discovered a loophole in the tax code which allows illegal aliens to claim their children in foreign countries on their tax form and receive a tax credit. The result? An average net refund of $1,400 per illegal household -- this is money paid to them above what they paid into the system and it's for children living in Mexico and Central America! Add to that the fact that in many states illegals have now been granted the right to vote in elections.... huh? Yep. Several states have made it illegal to require ID when voting because it's "discrimination" and "targets minorities" (I don't see how if you ask for ID for each and every voter). The liberals behind these measures are essentially saying "if you can afford to get yourself to an American voting booth on election day, we'll let you have a voice in deciding the future of this nation". Why have citizenship anymore?

I'll point out just 3 more problems with allowing illegal aliens to stay. 1) History has shown us that much of the money being paid to illegals does not stay in the U.S. It goes back to their native country to aid their families back there. 2) Illegals have caught on to the idea of sneaking into the U.S. in order to deliver their baby here (making that baby a U.S. citizen) and granting them some level of acceptance and legitimate claim to stay (these are called "anchor babies"), and 3) terrorists love countries that allow illegal immigration. If it's easy to sneak in, it's easy to conduct their terror operations.

Finally, David, I know most of my diatribe has been about American immigration problems, but the similarities are quite close. Americans, with our claims of Christian-based compassion and our famous mantra of "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." are now seeing the problems with trying to help everyone and not holding illegal activities accountable. Israel is, and will remain, a beacon of hope, compassion and that "light unto nations", but it doesn't have to do it all by itself. Maybe Israel could try to negotiate a final destination for the African illegals who fear for their lives -- Mexico seems to have a population drain ;-) -- but I don't believe any reasonable moral code should hold Israel responsible for providing everyone sneaking across their borders with a new beginning.

Just don't send them to the U.S.! We're still trying to get one Kenyan *oops, Hawaiian* out of office!

Joe

Posted by: AliasJoe | May 31, 2012 10:03:58 PM

Right on the money, Joe. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that illegals are a major source of crime wherever they are concentrated. In fact, the same applies to a lesser extent with legal immigrants from poor countries. The reason why is that those people come from countries that lack the rule of law. The law is used to oppress or isn't enforced by corrupt officials, so they have little respect for the law. That attitude continues when they arrive in nations that have the rule of law. We have that problem in the US and the Israelis seem to be experiencing the same thing. Properly handled by the government and the citizens, new immigrants can be successfully assimilated, but there has to be the will to do so. That includes the will to round up and deport those who refuse to cooperate.

Posted by: Karl | Jun 1, 2012 12:11:08 AM

I don't know a lot about what is going on, but I do see some of the reports on how these illegal aliens are being treated, including the molotov cocktails, and the efforts to get them to leave. Aren't there jobs that Israelis aren't willing to do? Don't a number of foreigners come to Israel to work? Why can't these asylum seekers be trained & matched with jobs as well?

Also, when people are fleeing, shouldn't the members of the UN Human Rights council get together and divvy up responsibility for absorbing these immigrants? ;-)

Posted by: Tanya | Jun 3, 2012 7:01:09 AM

In a perfect world, people can live wherever they want. But this isn't a perfect world, and Israel is not a perfect country. The fact that Africans were let in at all, and not shot at the fence, is a "light" onto many nations. But like all things in life, there are boundaries and borders. It's bad enough when citizens commit crimes, but when non-citizens do it, then fear becomes the dominant emotion, and it's not a rational one. It is the duty and responsibility of nation states to protect their citizenry. If that means deporting illegals, then it must be done. And when the nation state doesn't do it, then the citizens themselves take matters into their own hands. That, at all costs, must be avoided. But it will continue until the situation is rectified.

Posted by: babawawa | Jun 3, 2012 10:30:00 AM

Yitz Greenberg once said - if we're 10% better than the rest of the world, we can be "a light unto the nations." If we're 25% better than the rest of the world, we can bring the Messiah. If we're 50% better than the rest of the world, we'll all be dead."

Generosity is not and need not be infinite. Charity is a mitzvah, but it is limited to no more than 20% of your income, so that you yourself do not become a burden on the community through excessive donations. Being "a light unto the nations" may require Israel to take in SOME refugees, but not more than the nation can handle - and a nation of 7 million, especially one allegedly under demographic threat, cannot take in tens of thousands of immigrants, especially those who are likely not to embrace the nations values.

Posted by: Russell Gold | Jun 4, 2012 9:41:40 AM

I'm on a mostly full lifeboat, surrounded by circling sharks. I picked up a few guys that also had to abandon ship. We have a limited water and food supply, and we fend off pirates on a regular basis. It's a tenuous existence, but we're doing remarkably well, getting on each others' nerves notwithstanding.

In the last few days, a bunch of other life rafts are pulling up next to us, and we're taking on the people who are in bad shape or will drown before too long, but we can't do that forever. Others are pulling up next to us and are demanding to be taken aboard, and while they look uncomfortable, their rafts are fairly solid and big ships are in the area.

If we take on too many people, particularly those who are in ok shape, then we all sink. It's best to work with the other lifeboats to see how we can save as many people as reasonably possible.

That's how I see the situation. Israelis, more than most people in the Mid East, feel badly for those who are in less fortunate circumstances, and have a history of multiculturism and assistance to people at risk -- for example, Ethiopians who don't look like the average Israeli (as if there were any such thing).

But there are limited resources, and the cold calculus of prioritizing asylum and refugee status needs to be instituted so that the people who are in dire straits receive urgent priority, which might include going elsewhere or staying in Israel. But don't label the government callous or unsympathetic or worse because the want to impose some sort of system for sorting everything out.

Posted by: Ari | Jun 4, 2012 10:27:40 PM

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