When we look around us this Passover, we are not the ones in need of protection, and we are not the ones escaping slavery. Somehow Israel has missed this role-reversal.
Text by Rebecca De Vries and Natasha Roth
Photos by Karen Zack
So spoke the Knesset’s legal representative at a High Court hearing on the Prevention of Infiltration Law at the beginning of this month. The statement adequately summarises the attitude of the Israeli government – and much of the public – toward the ‘strangers’ in our midst. Yes, Israel has an asylum seeker problem, but not the one that is so readily coughed up by the government and media. The essential statistic of the situation – that African asylum seekers/migrants/”infiltrators” make up less than 1 percent of the population in Israel – points to the fact that the problem is not one of security, or demographics. Rather, if it is possible to generate such violence, loathing and exaggeration over so small a percentage of Israel’s society, then the vast problem we have on our hands is one of racism and xenophobia.
In other times and other places our grandfathers, too, once were refugees. Louis Gruenberg (De Vries) was a young boy in Germany when a group of eastern European Hasidic Jews came through his village knocking on any door bearing a mezuzah, asking for food and shelter. With anti-Semitism already on the rise in Germany, the Jewish community was afraid to draw negative attention to itself and, although his family gave the visitors food, they wouldn’t allow them to stay. Later, when Gruenberg was himself in need of help and had to knock on strangers’ doors, he frequently thought of this decision and never stopped feeling guilty about it. Kurt Roth, having fled to the UK from Western Europe in the early years of the Second World War, found himself interned and then deported to Australia by the British government on account of his Austrian citizenship, in spite of his having arrived in England as a Jew escaping Nazi persecution.
Now, more than seven decades later, we see in Israel the same casual cruelty and outright prejudicial rejection plaguing the lives of those who have come seeking our help. With this in mind, and given the time of year, we have decided to go back...Read More