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Likud minister: Drowning of migrants justifies Israeli policy

Just one day after 950 asylum seekers drown on their way to Italy, Israel’s transportation minister praises the government for preventing migrants from entering the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Israel Katz at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Israel Katz at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) sees lessons for Israeli policy in the tragic massacre of 700 asylum seekers who drowned when their vessel capsized on Sunday in the Mediterranean Sea. Posting a photo showing rows of corpses brought to shore by rescue workers, Katz wrote the following caption, which is translated here from Hebrew:

“Hundreds of migrants from Africa drowned to death close to Italy in a disaster that horrified all human beings. Europe is having a difficult time dealing with the migrants, and with creating solutions for this difficult issue. While there are differences between us (the migrants traveling to Europe must cross a sea while those heading for Israel have a direct overland connection), you can see the rectitude of our government’s policy to build a fence on the border with Egypt, which blocks the job-seeking migrants before they enter Israel. The elections are over — you can give us some credit now.”

Only four days earlier, Katz published a sombre Facebook status about Holocaust Remembrance Day (with a gratuitous claim that Israel now faces another Holocaust — i.e., from Iran’s nuclear program).

Katz seems not to remember some basic historical information about events leading up to and immediately after the Holocaust. When Israeli and Jewish schoolchildren around the world are taught about the Shoah, one of the most-emphasized points is that the Jews trying to escape the Nazis were denied refuge by nearly every country in the world. And that the Nazi regime felt it had carte blanche to carry out its genocide because the world had demonstrated its indifference to the fate of the Jews. They are taught about the 1938 Evian Conference, initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, which brought together representatives of 32 states for over a week in that Swiss resort town to discuss the possibility of taking in more refugees from Germany and Austria, which were then the only two countries under Nazi rule. But none would agree to expand their quotas. After the war, Jewish survivors of the death camps who tried to make their way to Palestine by boat were turned away and forcibly interned by the British army on the nearby island of Cyprus. This episode of recent Jewish history was immortalized by the 1947 story of the refugee-filled ship Exodus, which Leon Uris tells in novel form and Paul Newman acts in heroic form.

The comparisons I am making are so obvious that they should not need mentioning. They should be obvious to the government of Israel, and to Yisrael Katz specifically. We are a country that uses the Holocaust to justify its policies — even its very existence — but somehow politicians like Netanyahu, Katz, Miri Regev and others seem to believe that compassion begins and ends at home.

Katz demonstrates vulgarity and an almost pathological lack of compassion with his gleeful-sounding status, in which he makes political capital of a catastrophe involving the massacre of hundreds of human beings — including small children. He refers to the asylum seekers as migrants searching for work, which perhaps is not quite as bad as calling them “infiltrators,” “cancer” or “vermin,” as other members of his party have done. But it is bad enough, as it dehumanizes these people by implying that they are casually seeking to better their financial circumstances (subtext: at our expense), rather than undertaking unbelievably arduous journeys to escape extreme danger or a physically unbearable existence. Only a desperate person with nothing to lose would trek across the Sinai Peninsula, risking kidnapping and torture, or crowd onto a boat that is not seaworthy when hundreds have already drowned.

Darfuri refugees pose for a poster against their deportation from Israel. (Activestills.org)

Darfuri refugees pose for a poster against their deportation from Israel. (Activestills.org)

Over the past few years, Israel has treated the asylum seekers from sub-Saharan African very badly. It has refused to consider their refugee status, refused to grant them the right to work legally, imprisoned them and deported them by force. In one infamous incident that took place two years ago, the government ordered the army to physically prevent a group of Eritreans stuck between the Egyptian border and Israel’s newly-built fence from entering the country. For a week, Israeli media reported on the group, which included a pregnant woman, as they sat under the scorching desert sun with neither food nor shelter — just a tarp and “as little water as possible.” Soldiers and police officers  prevented aid workers from bringing them food and even prevented a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel from examining them. Ultimately, the pregnant woman and child were allowed in. As for the others, soldiers physically dragged them back to Egypt.

Israel is not the only country to treat asylum seekers badly. In Europe and in the United States, governments dither over refugees because right-wing, populist and racist opposition politicians have put them on the defensive. But in Israel those right-wing, populist and racist politicians are the government. They are not the opposition. And that, rather than geography, is the tangible difference between the “us” and “them” that Yisrael Katz refers to in his Facebook status.

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    1. Jello

      A Likud minister posted an entirely reasonable post and you jump all over him? For what exactly? For calling the drownings horrible? No, more likely you condemn him for being right. Israel built a fence and prevents illegal migrants from receiving benefits, social welfare and any chance of permanent residency. The illegal migrants have magically stopped coming. They stopped coming despite the crap that was spouted on this site about how nothing will stop the ‘desperate people’ from coming. That they would tunnel under or jump over walls. That they would come regardless of what Israel does to those that make it. Garbage. All of it. You make it a bit harder for them to make it into the country and you remove the possibility of permanent settlement in Israel and they stop coming. This isn’t rocket science.

      Oh, and obviously they are no longer dying on their way to us, and they are not being tortured in the Sinai. Now they are trying to make it to Italy and Greece instead, but they will not stay there. Once they make it to into the EU they can make their way to a country where the liberal laws will prevent them from ever being kicked out. They will move north to Germany, Norway and Sweden where they could get permanent residency and social benefits upon arriving. And who can blame them? Their country is utter shite compared to living on social benefits in Sweden or Norway.

      Why are the migrants dying on their way to Europe? Because Europe created the irresistible pull of permanent residence in a first world country. Who killed those migrants? Every liberal who supported policies granting blanket asylum for anyone making it to Europe from poor and failed countries.

      Just to recap. Likud minister makes reasonable point. Lisa jumps all over him primarily because he is right and she has been proven wrong. Young males from Eritrea that absconded from military duty and are looking for jobs are being prevented from crossing into Israel. Holocaust.

      Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        Just to recap…

        This article is 1000% correct.

        And you truly are a lowlife scumbag for backing these Racist Right Wing Brown-Shirts…

        THIS Jew will NOT be SILENT !!!

        Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          WHinY LitTLe bi#$h ThaT DOES not KnoW when to Capitalize letTers!!!

          Reply to Comment
          • New Relic

            Sadly, capitalization is not Abdul Weiss’ only or most significant problem.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Ben


      “For a week, Israeli media reported on the group, which included a pregnant woman, as they sat under the scorching desert sun with neither food nor shelter — just a tarp and “as little water as possible.” Soldiers and police officers prevented aid workers from bringing them food and even prevented a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel from examining them.”

      This from the descendants of the victims of the denial of refuge Goldman describes, the inheritors of this legacy and, of course, of Exodus 22:21.

      Katz sounds just like Jello.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      Chapter 61, “Goliath” (“This Belongs To The White Man”) – a more detailed account of Israeli attitudes, including lots of quotes from Israeli politicians.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ricky Rocket

        I’ll tell you what Bruce, if and when the Palestinians are ready to have their demilitarized principality, you can lobby them to accept all the economic migrants they please. Until then, STFU

        Reply to Comment
    4. Johanan

      The author is confusing economic migrants (who are the overwhelming majority) who abuse the right to claim asylum with genuine refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries. The latter must always be provided refuge, whereas for the former there is no moral or legal obligation to take in.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mobius Dumpling

        Johnathan. it is you who is confused. Israel has not recognized any of the African asylum seekers as refugees. Not even one. The racist minister Katz was gleeful at the death of 700 people, some of them economic immigrants and some of them true refugees: we’ll never know which of them belongs to what group.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Ben Zakkai

      Asylum policy and practice pose particularly thorny issues. Both Katz (of whom I am no fan) and his detractors make valid points. Yes, the world cruelly and unnecessarily closed its doors to Jewish and other refugees before WWII, with tragic results. In fact, much of modern-day refugee and asylum law is a response to such tragedies. It is indeed disgraceful that Israel has, in essence, adopted a practically-no-African-refugees-will-accepted policy by falsely characterizing all Africans as purely economic migrants, refusing to adjudicate their asylum claims, jailing asylum-seekers indefinitely, preventing them from supporting themselves and their families, pressuring them to leave, and even repatriating them to their countries of origin or to other African countries where they have no guarantees of humane treatment. That Israeli response has been shockingly cruel, heartless and hypocritical, especially in light of longstanding Jewish condemnation, itself justified, of the world’s failure to save Jewish refugees before and during WWII. On the other hand, neither Israel nor any other country can be expected to maintain open borders, even for refugees. Africa chronically produces great numbers of persecuted groups and individuals who at least arguably fit the definition of refugee, and so does the Middle East in recent years. In a better world, there would be more effective internationally-coordinated responses to resolve refugee-producing conflicts on the one hand, thus reducing overall numbers of refugees, while also admitting refugees to many countries around the world, subject to some fair and pre-planned distribution, when conflict resolution doesn’t work. Instead, what tends to happens is that great mixed streams of refugees and non-refugees cross borders illegally, looking for better lives, while receiving countries are faced with dilemmas involving long-term absorption of large numbers of asylum seekers, adjudication of their claims (which is no easy task when dispositive conditions and events occurred far away in war-torn countries; and unfortunately it must be admitted that many asylum seekers and their attorneys game the system by making false claims and dragging them out in courts for many years), and tightly securing borders while adopting other strict measures, like detention pending adjudication of claims (since many claimants otherwise fail to appear after being released), in order not to become magnets for further and even greater floods of illegal migrants. Failure to prevent or discourage illegal migration also indirectly channels great numbers of illegal migrants into the hands of migrant smugglers, who are among the worst criminals in the world and often abuse or even kill migrants in their charge. So Katz, despite his repulsive nature and manner of expression, actually has a point here.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Khalapenyo Aviv

      By this logic Israel should open it’s borders to Syrian refugees too…but where does it end? I’d like to open the borders to those in need but things aren’t that simple: the state of Israel cannot afford an influx of millions of refugees the like witnessed by Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan over the past decade. Yes, there are millions.

      The author should get off her high horse and stop blowing everything out of proportion: it’s painfully obvious this is about her anger against Israel and having another excuse to bash Israel, not the African immigrants.

      This arrogance is taking attention away from the real issue that needs to be addressed immediately: that is, not Israel’s reaction to illegal immigration but why millions of Africans are risking their life to escape their continent. Solve that and we won’t have to hear about death marches in the Sinai or boats full of people capsizing.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Joop Jansen

      What I do not understand is that jews were fleeing Europe and were harboured all over the world, have you forgotten this? What a cruel remark of this nasty zionist!And your other policies are? killing Palestinians, thieving their land, poison their crops, demolishing their houses, abusing their children along list….

      Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        Joop —

        Jews in large numbers were not harbored all over the world. They didn’t have escape. Had they been able to escape in the 1930s the Nazis might have just had a mass expulsion and not a mass extermination.

        The USA maintained strict immigration controls until 1941 and then from 1941-4 made them stricter not looser. Even during the late 1940s and early 1950s the USA was reluctant to admit Jews. You’ll see a similar record for most countries.

        Maybe you should get over your hatred of Jews enough to deal with historical reality.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Yes, Joop does not get it quite right. (I do not know Joop of course and neither do you, but the by now expected leap to say Joop hates Jews does not automatically follow except as an automatic thought but it is the default self-justifying assumption by the Right of course.) Lisa Goldman gets it right. As you tacitly acknowledge, JeffB, by not taking on Goldman. Basically you confirm Goldman’s thesis, however, JeffB.

          Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          If that is so, Jeff, perhaps you can explain why Yad Vashem has honoured well over 25,000 Righteous Among the Nations, despite having very strict criteria for that honour such as:

          * Only a Jewish party can put a nomination forward;
          * Helping a family member or Jew convert to Christianity is not a criterion for recognition;
          * Assistance has to be repeated and/or substantial;
          * Assistance has to be given without any financial gain expected in return

          see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Righteous_Among_the_Nations

          On second thoughts – don’t bother to respond – there are certain unscrupulous Zionists who have a vested interest in portraying unending and pervasive antisemitism.

          Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          Also, Jeff, I think you will find, if you explore the subject properly, that the Zionist movement played a substantial role in tightening US immigration policy, and later in restricting Russian emigration into Western Europe via Austria, in order then Jews wishing to migrate would be forced to Palestine. So yes, put the problem down to antisemitism, but acknowledge that Zionism cultivates antisemitism as the only rationale that can justify its oppression.

          Reply to Comment
    8. There is no shame in the ziosupremacist game. I don’t know what the coverage has been on this story in the united states of israel, probably silence. If they had been white, of course, they wouldn’t have been forced to make this dangerous journey. No one warned them about JSIL.

      Now is the cue for hasbara central to be sure and fill up this post with whataboutery, antisemitism, Hamas = ISIS, etc., Jewish homeland, etc., ad nauseum. Go for it.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben

      Gershom Gorenberg:

      “Here lies a key case of how the right also refuses to accept the moral benefits, which is to say the moral responsibility, of independence. Human rights activists who demand asylum for African refugees understand Jewish independence far better than Knesset members, such as Ayelet Shaked, who want to keep the courts from interfering with the imprisonment and expulsion of asylum-seekers. The refugee-rights activists, even the most secular among them, resonate with the music of what a Jewish polity means in Jewish tradition – music to which the authors of the Jewish nation-state law from Likud and Habayit Hayehudi are deaf.

      “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him,” says a certain Jewish book that Jews carried with them in Exile. “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens.” Please note: It says “in your land,” because this is how you will be able to act when you are a sovereign people in your country.

      The anonymous medieval text Sefer Hahinukh, commenting on the commandment not to return a slave to his oppressor, says that it applies specifically in the Land of Israel, because, “God wanted for the sake of the Land’s honor (emphasis added) that one fleeing there should be saved from slavery.” The author was dreaming of what would be possible to do when Jews have independence. Even if he’d been able to imagine an airplane, he wouldn’t have imagined Jews taking refugees who had fled from the slavery-like conditions in Eritrea and putting them on planes to expel them.

      For heaven’s sake, Mr. Netanyahu, Ms. Regev, Ms. Shaked, unfold lawn chairs among the wildflowers, pull a bottle of white wine from your cooler, pour some, and chill. And when the holiday is over, get up and act like responsible free people in your land.”

      Reply to Comment
    10. New Relic

      When a rubber dinghy carrying around 100 African refugees across the Mediterranean began to sink, a Nigerian Christian prayed for his life in an innocent act that would end in the deaths of 12 fellow migrants.
      One of the Muslims on board the rickety craft ordered him to stop, saying: ‘Here, we only pray to Allah.’
      When he refused, a violent fight ensued and 12 Christians drowned when they were thrown overboard by the Muslim refugees.
      The tragic news comes amid reports that an unprecedented 10,000 refugees fleeing war and persecution in Africa have been rescued by Italian ships in the past week

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Tell us what would happen if a Moslem attempted to pray at the Western Wall, or if a woman attempted to pray in the wrong area of the Western Wall? Unfortunately all religions can be intolerant and insensitive to diversity, and your fellow-travelers exemplify this daily with their bigotry targeting Islam.

        Reply to Comment
        • Rickey Rocket

          do you believe that the outcome of your scenarios would be anywhere near what bappened on the boat? What a sick person you are

          And your response is helpful to the victims family how?

          Sad that instead of learning from the incident you diffuse it with a weak case of whataboutyouery.

          Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          Okay. Now I know you are completely disconnected from reality and have likely never been to Israel. Nothing would happen to a Muslim that visits the Western Wall. There is no one that checks for religions at the Western Wall unlike at the entrance to the Temple Mount where only Muslims are allowed.

          The only thing that would happen to a woman entering the male side of the Western Wall plaza is that someone would politely explain to her that she is in on the wrong side. I witnessed this last Friday when a Korean tourist couple went into the male side of the Western Wall plaza.

          Reply to Comment
        • What happens to women who try to pray there?
          – womenofthewall.org.il
          – Women Of The Wall Attacked By Ultra-Orthodox Haredim …www.huffingtonpost.com
          – 972mag.com/…womens-prayer-at-western-wall

          Reply to Comment
    11. New Relic

      Israel is hardly racist.

      In 1984, “Operation Moses” brought 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Ultimately, nearly 100,000 Africans arrived, including one mass 34-hour airlift of 14,400 Ethiopian Jews in 34 hours. As Ethiopian Jews integrate, this country frequently branded “racist” is the only Westernized country ever to welcome that kind of voluntary Black African migration.

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        All these Africans that are your evidence Israel is not racist – they were all Jewish? Only Jewish? Any of them outside the Jewish race?

        Reply to Comment
        • GilGamesh

          Jews aren’t a race, they are a people. I hope you are not a product of the American school system.

          Reply to Comment
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