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Turning Israel into a 'state of all its infiltrators'

The past two Israeli governments successfully turned the issue of African asylum seekers into a threat posed by infiltrators, who were subsequently criminalized. A short examination of the country’s history with infiltrators, however, can give us some important insights.

By Eitan Bronstein Aparicio

African asylum seekers are arrested and put onto a bus in Israel, where authorities have not granted them refugee status in 2013, Jewish asylum seekers in the port of Havana where they were denied asylum in 1939. (Photos: Activestills, U.S. Government)

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who’s in favor of expelling refugees from Africa, devised a catchy slogan – “A country of all its infiltrators” – in order to condemn those who defend asylum seekers in Israel. By using that concept he is trying to show the absurdity of those who support giving refugees asylum and rights – because nobody wants us to become a country of infiltrators. An historical examination of those who previously knocked at the gates of this the country, however, can give us some important and surprising insights.

The first illegal infiltrators were the ma’apilim – the illegal immigrants who had to evade the British Mandate police trying to prevent illegal immigration. It’s worth noting that those infiltrators were welcomed with open arms by the pre-state Jewish community.

Read +972’s full coverage of refugees in Israel

Some of them were Jews who managed to flee and infiltrate across the borders of countries under a Nazi regime or Nazi occupation in order to reach this country and after an agonizing journey, become legal citizens.

The next infiltrators Israel received, not necessarily welcomingly, were Jews from Arab states who slipped through their countries’ borders after Zionism brought the pot of nationalism to a boil. Hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews found refuge in Israel and became its citizens.

During those same years other infiltrators tried to return to their homes in Israel. Palestinian refugees, who Israel expelled to establish a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, tried to return to their homes – but violence prevented them from doing so.  Thousands of destitute refugees tried to return to work their fields or obtain food for their families but Israel fought them as if they had all been Fedayeen. Marco Rosio, one of the first settlers in Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra, whose members moved into the homes of Palestinians from Ras al-Ahmar, said it accurately: “They tried to return to steal what belonged to them. So we shot them.”

Not all Israeli Jews at the time wanted to prevent the refugees’ return. In 1956, Rabbi Binyamin, one of the founders of Brit Shalom, issued a compassionate plea: “To our infiltrating brother… From now on, don’t call him an infiltrator; call him an illegal immigrant, because you unknowingly bore redemption in your own illegal immigration. You are not hated, not an enemy, not a foe, but a brother and comrade. Thus shall you be treated: we shall rehabilitate you among us, as one of us, among your people, wherever you choose.” If only we could believe it.

The 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law created the legal framework to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees. It was updated a week ago in order to criminalize the African refugees in Israel today. This law daringly leaped across and bridged decades to reflect the state’s consistent approach to the non-Jewish infiltrator. The law that made Palestinian infiltrators threatening and dangerous has also transformed African refugees into criminals.

The tone of Sa’ar’s slogan recalls  – perhaps intentionally – “a country of all its citizens,” the phrase by former Balad party chairman Azmi Bishara, who aimed to advance civil equality and challenge the Jewish character of the state. It’s as if Sa’ar is saying he’ll have “neither a country of all its infiltrators nor of all its citizens.” Sa’ar isn’t opposed to Israel taking in infiltrators, but he wants to filter them, to sort them into Jews and non-Jews, according to his Zionist ideology. The Jews should be accepted and the non-Jews should be left on the outside. It doesn’t matter whether they are natives of this land or refugees from wars in Africa.

Had we been true to the legacy of Rabbi Binyamin and accepted both the Jews and non-Jews, we would have been able build something better, even if were to fall short of full redemption.

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio is the founder of Zochrot.

They weren’t real refugees
In act of civil disobedience, Sudanese refugees walk out of Israeli ‘open prison’ 

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    1. Kolumn9

      Dear Eitan, perhaps you should have used a pen name? Won’t your European paymasters be upset that you are using the time they pay for to write articles unrelated to what they are paying you for (nakba, and all that nonsense)? Or do you have one of those flexible contracts where it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it generates negative propaganda against Israel?

      Reply to Comment
      • Note that K9 has made you the agent of foreigners, and so–an infiltrator.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I didn’t make him an agent of foreigners. He made himself one when he created an organization almost entirely supported by funds that comes in from foreign governments and organizations.

          His salary is paid by foreigners for the purpose of interfering in Israeli domestic affairs. He is quite literally an agent of foreigners in the most basic sense of the concept.

          You can argue about whether it is a good thing or not that there are paid agents of foreign governments or organizations operating to change Israel, but that he is a paid agent of foreigners is a statement of fact. He is paid money to do what he does because some foreign body believes it will change Israel towards a direction that the foreign body wants.

          Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Cue the hypocrisy on K9. Would you be so forward in your opposition against right-wing Israeli groups and individuals who take money from foreigners in order to change Israel?

            I’ll make it easy for you: Are you against Im Tirzu, since they receive funds from all sorts of foreign elements who have a clear extreme right-wing agenda?

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            I would be equally forward in my opposition to right wing Israeli groups who take their money from foreigners in order to produce anti-Israeli propaganda and lobby for international sanctions and other hostile actions against Israel. They should most certainly be included in any law that bars foreign funding of organizations that act in ways that are explicitly hostile to Israel. It would only be fair.

            The biggest hypocrisy is among people that argue that groups should be allowed to collect money from abroad in order to pursue activist agendas that are explicitly hostile to the state of Israel, because to prevent them from doing so would be discriminatory against the left. No, it would be discriminatory against organizations that have lost their minds and think they have free reign to operate in Israel, against Israel, at the behest of foreign organizations.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Let me hear it using your own words: Are you equally against Im Tirzu (which gets untold hundreds of thousands or even millions of $’s from right-wing elements that are bent on making it impossible for Israel to ever make peace with its neighbors) as you are against leftists organizations whose agenda is for Israel to become a normal country, and not the despicable apartheid state it is now?

            Say it using your own words.

            Reply to Comment
          • So foreign infiltration is not infiltration if K9 approves of it, he knowing exactly what is anti-Israel. Praise YHWH for his presence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Adam Dayton


            I’ll answer for K9, or at least for myself as someone who agrees with him.

            No, of course I do not have a problem with Im Tirtzu receiving foreign funding. Im Tirtzu is not an organization utilized by foreign powers in the campaign to chip away at Israel’s right to exist. Foreign powers should not be allowed to use proxies in Israel for causes whose aim is to damage Israel.

            “ou are against leftists organizations whose agenda is for Israel to become a normal country, and not the despicable apartheid state it is now”

            I encourage you to do a little bit of research on neo-imperialism/neo-colonialism. It is not for foreign powers acting through domestic proxies to determine how Israel behaves. That rests with the democratic will of the Israeli people.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Enabling Israel to behave as it does through military aid is a form of neo-imperialism as well. That’s what makes this bleating about “foreign funding” really eye glazing. Similarly with the bleating about due process and the Bedouin when historically having land registered in your name is not a protection from the GOI.

            Reply to Comment
          • adam dayton

            No, military aid is not neo-imperialism. There is a clear difference between a donor and recipient country having mutual interests as determined by the democratic will of the recepient country and a country utilizing domestic proxies to carry out foreign policy objectives counter to the democratic will of the people.

            The Israeli people have every right to ensure that its internal politics are not manipulated by foreign powers intending to undermine the state.

            If one wants to argue that such organizations work for the good of Israel, then that is the height of neo-imperialism – “the Jews are too stupid to govern in their best interest so we have to do it for them”

            Reply to Comment
          • Adam, The EU, which does provide grants for human rights work, will also include Israel in its up coming research/development grant. Some of this latter money will go to individuals within Israel, not the State; both the human rights work and development money are seen as for the good of Israel by the EU. The targets in both endeavors are citizens within Israeli society who want to improve both themselves and what they see as Israeli society. The human rights work does not chip away at Israel’s right to exist in any objective fashion. You say it does and so want to proscribe it; actually, there are Israelis, citizens, who hold views quite different from yours who do not see the destruction of Israel as their goal. It is very sad to see an argument attacked not on merits but from origin, an origin not called, say, “EU grant,” but “foreign power.” It is equally sad to see words attacked unrelated to the material support of violence. I suspect USAID has, in Israel’s past if not also now, provided grant funding to Israeli citizens apart from the government, and would be surprised if there are not other agencies of the US doing the same. These would be “foreign governments” interfering in Israel as well. Simply, you dislike some of this granting overall, and attach threat to such, ignoring the similarly situated granting by foreign governments you accept. Whether you are the voice of Israel’s “democratic will” is dubious. That you do not support uniform implementation of civil rights in this area is quite clear.

            Reply to Comment
          • Adam Dayton

            Yes, I do not disagree that they are seen as good for Israel BY the EU. This is textbook neo-colonialism. “We know better than the silly peasant’s what’s good for their country.” It’s for the Israeli people and the Israeli people alone to decide what’s good for them.

            While they have not succeeded, many of the organizations most certainly do attempt to chip away Israel’s right to exist as “Israel” has been traditionally understood (the nation-state of the Jewish people). Many of these organizations push for the return of the Palestinians exiled, which if actualized, would wipe the nation-state of the Jewish people off the map. These organizations operate under the premise that Israel, as it has been traditionally defined, does not have a right to exist. In addition to this, many of these organizations provide various degrees of aid and comfort to those with the explicit purpose of destroying Israel. They want to destroy the nation-state of the Jewish people, as the term “nation-state” has been historically understood. As Israel is defined as the nation-state of the Jewish people, they in turn want to destroy Israel.

            “It is very sad to see an argument attacked not on merits but from origin, an origin not called, say, “EU grant,” but “foreign power.” It is equally sad to see words attacked unrelated to the material support of violence.”

            So what are you saying? As long as foreign funding isn’t used for violence, it should be allowed? I really don’t think that it’s up for debate as to whether or not a country can seek to thwart foreign propaganda, and in turn, foreign propaganda distributed by domestic proxies.

            I support the universal implementation of civil rights, and you’re more than welcome to show me where in the philosophy of civil rights receiving foreign funding for subversive activities has historically been considered a civil right.

            Reply to Comment
          • “foreign funding for subversive activities” is the key phrase, for it assigns some thought as inherently “subversive,” and further stigmatizes the speaker by accepting foreign funding. I make two points; first, on whether the present granting by the EU would make denying application to human rights grants by the EU a violation of equal protection; second, whether the thought on the Palestinian Right of Return is inherently so dangerous to the State as to override a violation of equal protection. To some extent I am conflating granting, as some EU grants go to human rights work in the occupied territory, which strikes me as less dangerous under any subversive threat test when asking that the IDF not violate standard views of human rights. I note that I personally think the Right of Return impossible in any general sense both socially and economically, but this is distinct from banning talk of it as subversive.

            1. Equal protection

            Israeli rights protection is generally not absolute but derivative of equal protection: how you indulge others forces indulgence on all (this would be significantly the case [with one proviso neglected here] if the Israeli Declaration of Independence were given constitutional status as well). There are exceptions; an early High Court case asserted press freedom essential to the working of Israeli society. But assume that there is no right of speech as such, only equal protection. The issue then reduces to how citizens are differentially treated. And this depends on how grants are bestowed in acceptable, “non subversive” areas. The EU will provide upcoming grant opportunity in research/development for both Israeli institutions and corporations, even individuals, for all I know. Crucially, the EU decides on grantees, not Israel. This means that entities of civil society compete for grants, all given access to competition if meeting EU standards. Human rights grants are structured similarly, with entities of civil society given access to a grant call from the EU. Equal protection focuses on the entity requesting access–the right to compete. If the EU provided money directly to Israel, then Israel could accept what guidelines are provided or not; if not, no money. But unless the EU demanded that human rights be funded as well,with Israel deciding grants, Israel saying yes or no to the whole package, there is no denial of equal protection by funding only “acceptable” activities. But this is not the case. Entry into the competition is individualized (crucially by civil entities in some cases), so to deny human rights grant access while accepting other grant access denies civil equal protection. The question then reduces to whether these former grants are “subversive.”

            2. Subversive.

            First, I do not see how Right of Return talk among Israeli Jews can be seen as “subversive” under national right ideology. That ideology holds that the people naturally will elect Knessets which rule through Zionist ideology in a protective if not exclusionist sense. There is nothing subversive then in Return talk unless associated with violence, for the Jewish electorate, which has always triumphed, will refuse the discourse. Grants covering Return talk may be foolishly ineffectual, little more. So “will of the people” ideology disarms subversive threat in any clear sense of identified danger. And this is why I become tired of the “foreign funding” label which can elide to “foreign agent”: the label is used to disarm the thought, which is a bit like saying “don’t listen to him, he’s a Jew.” Arguments from origin are not arguments in reason (whether I agree with the reason or not), and I see origin touted as unclean sign by many on these pages, of many opinions. “Subversion” fails of Return because national right ideology says it must fail, so refusing EU grants on Return talk would deny equal protection in what I believe to be the usual Israeli sense. (One can make a more extreme case: what about Holocaust denial talk, which is illegal in Israel. That would be legally upfront subversive. Well, the EU does not provide such grants, and Israel would readily deny ALL grants from a country offering such–which is the point: all grants.) Again, if Israel is allowed to distribute the money as it likes, once bestowed by the EU, equal protection vanishes, unless the EU ties it in as part of the deal, a deal Israel could reject.

            This leaves the question of inflaming Palestinian Israeli citizenry though Return talk, talk unrelated to either direct violent appeal or material support for same. It is a bit strange to think these citizens are not familiar with Return; but another question can be asked: can talk of Return lead to a different view of Return.

            I quote from Justice Holmes’ famous Abrams dissent of 1919, on the conviction of a man for violating an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1918 which forbade advocating draft evasion during WW I. Holmes says:

            “Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition…But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundation of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas–that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based on imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

            Return talk offers no such imminent threat. But it might offer something else. Judge Learned Hand wrote to Holmes a bit before Abrams, in 1918,

            “Opinions are at best provisional hypotheses, incompletely tested. The more they are tested, after the tests are well scrutinized, the more assurance we may assume, but they are never absolutes. So we must be tolerant of opposite opinions or varying opinions by the very fact of our incredulity of our own. … always realize that [your opponent] may be the saint and you the devil. Go your way with a strong right arm and a swift shinning sword, in full consciousness that what you kill for, and what you may die for, some smart chap…may write a book and prove is all nonsense. I agree that in practical application there may be some difficulty, but I am a philosopher and if Man is so poor a creature as not to endure the truth, it is no concern of mine. … I say that you may not cut off [your opponent’s] heads … because the victims insist upon saying things which look against Provisional Hypothesis Number Twenty Six, the verification of which to date may be found in its proper place in the card catalogue. Generally, I insist you must allow the possibility that if the heads are spared, other cards may be added under that sub-title which will have, perhaps, an important modification.”

            In short wind rather than long, talk of Return may change talk of Return. What you think you are fighting may go away on its own, or become something else. For the worse? Well, under the general right nationalist view that is hard to imagine.

            Since Return is not actionable under right nationalist ideology, there is no imminent threat; but there may be a benefit even within Zionism to its talk. Imminent subversion is precluded by national right definition. Talk of “chipping away” at the “national right” of Israel to exist is an attempt to control the market place of ideas is similarly inconsistent with the professed confidence of the national right itself. Equal protection then dominates, subversion does not apply, and labeling ideas by the funding origin of their speaker lawfully gained is an ad hominem fear tactic.

            I believe focus on due process in the occupation would provide an even stronger case.

            I have taken some effort in this reply; I hope you do not see it as a standard online political joust, for it is not.

            Reply to Comment
          • Adam Dayton

            With respect to the matter of equal protection, I have seen no evidence whatsoever that in Israel or any other democracy, equal protection applies to the question of the foreign funding of local NGOs by foreign powers to pursue their foreign policy objectives in that country. I’d be interested in seeing some literature as applied to Israel and the philosophy of democracy as a whole in which equal protection is considered as expansive as you propose. People are equally protected in their right to free speech, but we certainly cannot derive from this that specific speech is equally protected. It certainly is not a violation of equal protection to fund a charity and not fund the KKK. You will respond with the fact that they aren’t in the same category; well neither are scientific institutions and “human rights” NGOs.

            With respect to the nature of subversion, you yourself are using a *dissent.* The decision wasn’t close by long shot, 7-2. If the speech itself isn’t protected, then it’s rather difficult to say that the foreign funding of unprotected speech is protected.

            I think we are looking at different elements of subversion. I agree with you that a Return of the Palestinians is not going to happen. However, I am focusing on the motivation of such avocation, which is clearly subversive as a matter of intent.

            Just because subversive speech is protected, we cannot derive from this that it is protected in the sense of receiving foreign funding.

            I think that we can look at clear anti-colonialist standards in the modern world to suggest that such foreign funding clearly violates recent universal principles: foreign countries should not interfere in the politics of other countries. The question of “human rights” is inherently a political question. Foreign powers should not play a role in such political discussions.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Calling African refugees “infiltrators” shows ignorance of Jewish history. Were not the current five million jews living in historic Palestine claimed to be “refugees” from Europe and Arab countries?

      Last month, Israeli historian professor Yigal Bin-Nun (Bar-Ilan University), in a study exposed Zionist lies about Jewish exodus from Morocco. Based on his study of Moroccan Jewish community, Bin-Nun has claimed that Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, was behind the whole operation wherein about 160,000 Moroccan Jews left Morocco for the Zionist occupied Palestine.


      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        1. What the hell is historic Palestine? Is it the behind of Greater Syria?

        2. Those Jews that entered Palestine under the British mandate illegally were considered infiltrators.

        3. What are “Zionist lies”. There is no “Zionist official” version of events. Historians may research and publish about whatever they wish. Some disagree with others. I’m not an expert on the subject and don’t have an opinion about it, but having read enough shabby historical books about Israel’s history, I wouldn’t get too excited about a historian presenting a different view.

        4. Someone who is not even capable of calling Israel by its name but instead calls it a “Zionist entity” (as if it was something bad) is IMHO incapable of contributing anything useful to any discussion. In fact, that sort of people and their bad influence is one of the main reasons we don’t live peacefully with our neighbours.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Serge Baruch

      Sort of stumbled on your website today for the first time and started to read the lead to the first piece – about detained Africans in Israel. Immediately stumbled again – on the phrase “African asylum seekers”… well, they are not. You and I may like the international rules for asylum seekers or not, but they’re what they are, and people from Africa who cross Israeli border after crossing several other nations territories are not asylum seekers. That’s a fact, and to distort it in the lead to your front page article is not a good practice. Usually, this practice is what marks propaganda, as opposite to journalism. However, I’ll grant you the benefit of the doubt and continue reading – for the time being. But the first impression is not good.

      Reply to Comment
    4. directrob

      “Asylum seeker” is just a person seeking asylum. It is a neutral term. You may think they have no right to seek asylum but that is another story. In my opinion Eritreans have every reason to go to Israel and not stay in Egypt.

      See for instance the Guardian about the same persons:

      “Hundreds of African refugees are being held hostage in the Sinai desert of Egypt by smugglers demanding up to $40,000 (£25,000) each for their release, human rights workers have warned.

      A brutal trafficking industry has flourished over the past year in which Bedouin gangs, emboldened by their apparent impunity, extort higher and higher prices for kidnapped migrants.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Asylum seeker is a neutral term. So is illegal migrant and infiltrator. According to your opinion they have the “right” to move from Egypt to anywhere in the world without regard to borders or immigration laws. According to international law in Egypt they might claim protection as refugees. In Israel they are illegal migrants, infiltrators and at best asylum seekers who may or may not be allowed to stay depending on the domestic considerations of the sovereign state whose laws they broke by entering.

        Their experience in Egypt is irrelevant. I have no idea why their terrible experience in the Sinai (while they were on their way to illegally entering Israel) suggests that they be granted special consideration in Israel. They illegally crossed the border (infiltrated) into Israel. This makes them illegal migrants and infiltrators.

        Reply to Comment
        • directrob

          Please try not to speak for me …

          For others everything you need to know about the Eritrean diaspora and were afraid to ask:

          Reply to Comment
    5. Huggable K9!

      “According to international law in Egypt they might claim protection as refugees. In Israel they are illegal migrants, infiltrators and at best asylum seekers who may or may not be allowed to stay depending on the domestic considerations of the sovereign state whose laws they broke by entering.” : If transit countries refuse to hear an appeal (not accept one), and certainly if these are as well abused in the transit country, they may move on to the next convention signatory. As to “domestic considerations of the sovereign state,” your High Court has already said they must be given an individualized hearing regardless of illegal entry. I think that constitutes “domestic considerations.”

      Big hug!

      Reply to Comment
      • Adam Dayton

        “If transit countries refuse to hear an appeal (not accept one), and certainly if these are as well abused in the transit country, they may move on to the next convention signatory.”

        The must be abused in the sense of article 1 in order to qualify for lawfully entering a third country. Being abused by criminal organizations with whom one has freely associated does not entitle one to seek asylum elsewhere.

        In the absence of Article 1 abuses in Egypt, there are no grounds for justifying the migrant entering Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Then let us have individualized hearings and let that decide…as mandated by the High Court. Why has the Knesset refused hearings for years? And refused the High Court’s detention camp order?

          (Being abused by criminal organizations which one has associated with out of desperation may or not not be “free association,” nor may there be true cognition that they are criminal at first blush. But again, let the hearings decide.)

          Reply to Comment
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