The strange policy flip-flop by the prime minister last week on the issue of the African asylum/employment seekers – popularly referred to these days as “infiltrators,” and by the Israeli Civil Rights Association as “status-less persons” – raises the question of why Israel, after having sealed its border with Egypt almost hermetically, cannot find a decent solution to the problem.
What Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did was to announce that Israel had signed an agreement with the UN refugees agency, the UNHCR, under which half the persons involved would remain in Israel and be dispersed throughout the country, while the other half would be absorbed in Europe and North America. He also promised to renovate the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv where many of the Africans currently live.
Then, after only five hours, he reneged on the agreement, under pressure from his coalition partners, whom he had failed to consult, and a group of Jewish inhabitants of south Tel Aviv, who claim to be the main victims of the current situation, and are the main advocates of throwing all the Africans out of Israel.
The number of Africans involved is said to be around 38,000, of whom only a small percentage have had their status established. Why the authorities have not gone to the trouble of checking the status of all 38,000 persons is not clear, and one keeps getting all sorts of excuses and explanations plucked from the air, rather than the truth, which leads to the belief that the authorities simply do not want to know.
Why? Apparently because once it is known how many bona fide refugees there are, it will no longer be possible to expel the majority by means of lies and trickery. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has repeatedly stated over the past week that all “infiltrators” must be banished, without adding that those entitled to refugee status should be excluded.
If this explanation reflects the reality, it is not clear why Netanyahu agreed to reach the agreement with the UN in the first place, and even stated that it is the best solution under the circumstances.
It is also not clear whether Netanyahu ever really believed that Israel could get away with the secret agreements allegedly reached with Rwanda and Uganda, under which Israel would transport its African “infiltrators” to them, none of whom originated in these two hapless states and hardly any of whom are willing to go voluntarily, even with a $5,000 incentive.
It is also not clear whether the authorities in Rwanda and Uganda were aware of this reality, or whether they, like Israel, simply believed that they could get away with this shameful transaction, which is in total breach of international law and human decency. They certainly did not need anyone – least of all the New Israel Fund – to whisper in their ears that the whole business stinks to high heaven. Neither African state is led by saints.
There are several other questions that beg for answers. For example, did Netanyahu really believe he could get away with the agreement he reached with the UN secretly, without informing most of his coalition partners, or consulting the Jewish inhabitants of south Tel Aviv, many of whom are believed to be Likud voters and Netanyahu fans?
If Netanyahu really believed this, then he is not the political magician he is reputed to be, and perhaps was naive enough to believe his political partners and voters are driven by reason and common sense rather than by vested interests and hatred for blacks, liberals and human rights activists, to mention but a few.
And if Netanyahu’s conduct was not motivated primarily by his wish to survive politically, would he have insisted on sticking by the agreement with the UN? In other words, does he comprehend what is obvious to anyone with eyes in his head, and that he himself went to the trouble of stating before he reneged? Namely that the agreement was the best that can be achieved under the circumstances, and that there is really no other decent and moral solution?
And does he really believe the New Israel Fund is made up of a bunch of traitors, who do not want Israel to remain a Jewish state? Does he understand that a Jewish state need not be, and ought not to be, a racist, xenophobic, totally self-centered, illiberal, religiously Orthodox state, but rather one that represents all persuasions of Jews, and seeks to be a law-abiding member of the family of democratic nations, considerate of minorities and “others,” without forgoing any of its basic national interests?
And where did he get the “information,” or rather the fake news, that the New Israel Fund had actually acted to convince Rwanda to renege on its secret agreement with Israel, even though the Rwandan deputy foreign minister denied his state knew anything about the NIF or was in touch with it? Does Netanyahu really believe all the falsehoods disseminated by bodies like Im Tirtzu about the “treacherous” nature of Israeli human rights organizations?
And there is additional dodgy “information” being spread. One of the reasons given by those who reject the idea of letting any of the “infiltrators” remain in Israel, under any circumstances, is that if even only half of them will be allowed to stay in Israel, soon Israel will gain a reputation in Africa of being a safe haven and even heaven, and will be flooded with new “refugees.” "Their numbers could soon reach 200,000, and then the Jewish nature of Israel will be threatened,” someone said on TV Channel 20 the other day.
This is totally absurd. The very same people who believe that somehow the number of Africans in Israel will climb to 200,000 also advocate Israel annexing Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, which would result in Israel losing its Jewish majority. Some say that already today there is a Palestinian majority west of the Jordan River, while no one denies that within a decade or two this will be the reality unless somehow a few more million Jews, or persons with an affinity to Jews (Bennett says there are some 60 million of the latter around the world) are somehow convinced to settle in Israel. So if six or seven million Palestinians do not endanger the Jewish character of the State of Israel, how do a theoretical 200,000 Africans do so?
What does Netanyahu think about all this? If he believes the Africans constitute a demographic danger to Israel, why did he reach the agreement with the UN Refugee Commission in the first place? And if he does not, isn’t it time that he simply put some of the facts straight with his impressive rhetorical abilities and baritone voice? Does he really doubt that he can remain in power (assuming he is not indicted and convicted) on the basis of a truthful assessment and presentation of the situation?
I know Passover is over, but I believe all these kushiyot (hard questions raised during the Passover Seder) deserve honest answers.