British Jewish groups and senior rabbis this week criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for pulling out of a deal with the UN to save African asylum-seekers in Israel from being deported.
Civil rights groups such as the New Israel Fund and the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (J-CORE) as well as Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner reacted with horror after Netanyahu suspended an agreement reached only hours earlier.
Late last year, Netanyahu said Israel would either imprison or deport tens of thousands of African asylum-seekers, most from Eritrea and Sudan, but on Sunday he said he had reached a compromise solution with the United Nations.
The plan, which he announced to the world’s press, involved Israel granting a five-year permit to roughly half the 32,000 migrants, while Western nations such as Canada, Italy and Germany agreed to re-house the other half.
But within hours of announcing the deal Netanyahu had backtracked, posting a message on Facebook saying: “I’ve decided to suspend implementation of this accord and to rethink the terms.”
He is believed to have buckled under pressure from right-wing government partners such as the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party, whose leader Naftali Bennett – a minister – said the deal would “turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators”.
In the UK, Jewish groups reacted to the embarrassing U-turn, with J-CORE director Dr Edie Friedman saying: “It is regrettable that the Israeli government has taken this action… We must not play politics with people’s lives.”
She added: “Israel should be sitting down with others in the international community to work out fair and sensible refugee policies. This crisis is as big as ever and it is up to all of us to come up with solutions.”
Likewise Adam Ognall, the chief executive of the New Israel Fund (NIF) in the UK, said: “Netanyahu’s U-turn on this welcome agreement – which was a ‘win’ for basic dignity for asylum-seekers – is a stain on Israel’s values and standing.”
He added: “Our job now is to support Israeli organisations to make sure the deal holds and ensure just treatment for both asylum-seekers and residents of South Tel Aviv alike.”
Elsewhere, Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said: “I have never experienced such unity across the Jewish community, both in the UK and Israel, as I have over the issue of refugees.
She added: “We are unified by the call during Passover and before Yon Ha’Shoah, which identifies the need to treat refugees with dignity and respect as a core Jewish value. We must treat them with honour and I call on the Israeli government to do so.”
In the UK, 65 rabbis have signed an open letter calling on the Israeli government not to deport Africans seeking shelter in Israel, while the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) joined hundreds of organisations and individuals in speaking out.