More than 320 British Jews have signed a letter to the Israeli ambassador protesting Israel’s decision to deport tens of thousands of African asylum-seekers.
The letter, initiated by Jewish students, slams the Israeli government’s new deportation policy targeting up to 30,000 people, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, including hundreds of women and children. You can view the letter here.
Under the policy, the African asylum-seekers are being paid thousands of shekels to leave the country, but leaving is mandatory. Hundreds have been arrested for refusing to return to their country of origin and are now on hunger strike in prison.
The deportations, in some cases removing people who have spent 13 years in Israel, have lent support to the country’s critics and galvanised Diaspora Jewry in anger, those signing the letter saying the policy is “a betrayal of the values we hold dear”.
Among the signatories are vocal Israel advocates including student leader Izzy Lenga, a vice-president of the National Union of Students, and Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner.
The letter, sent to Israeli ambassador Mark Regev, originated with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), after its president Josh Holt told the Board of Deputies plenary on 18 February that British Jewry had to raise its voice on the issue.
It coincides with huge protests in Tel Aviv last week, in a neighbourhood popular with Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers, a symbolic location because the area’s Israeli residents have been instrumental in pushing for deportation laws.
The letter’s signatories told Regev that those now being deported “came to Israel because they knew it was a beacon of freedom and democracy, a country whose people understand how vital it is to protect those fleeing persecution and death”.
Holt added that the deportations “are not only questionable under Israel’s obligations in the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, but also challenge the Jewish values upon which our homeland was founded”.
He said the British Jewish community’s voice “has not yet been heard,” adding: “We are proud to be part of the efforts to amplify it. We are encouraged by widespread support from across the community and hope that the Israeli government will hear our voices and remember our homeland’s founding ideals.”