British Rabbis to Netanyahu: Don’t Deport People Seeking Asylum

London: 65 British rabbis, cantors, and rabbinical students have signed a global letter initiated by the New Israel Fund, HIAS, T’ruah and Right Now to demand that the Israeli government reverse its plan to deport people seeking asylum in Israel from African countries and implement a solution in accordance with Israel’s responsibilities under international law. The still-growing list of signatories includes prominent rabbis in the UK, USA, Canada and elsewhere and from the Orthodox, Masorti, Reform and Liberal movements.

The letter comes in response to the Israeli government’s announcement that it will force people seeking refuge in Israel to choose between deportation to a foreign nation or indefinite imprisonment in Israel. The policy could affect over 38,000 people, who came to Israel seeking refuge from torture, enslavement, and war in African nations, mainly Darfur and Eritrea.

The letter is being delivered to the Israeli Embassy in London today, 31 January.

This initiative is part of a growing movement of rabbis and other Jewish clergy around the world who are taking action to prevent the deportations. In Israel, 91 rabbis signed a similar letter initiated by the nonprofit anti-racism organization Tag Meir.

The letter, which has been signed by nearly 900 clergy, states:

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

“We write as Jewish clergy from around the world to urge you to stop the deportations of asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea who have sought refuge in Israel.

“As a country founded by refugees, and whose early leaders helped to craft the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel must not deport those seeking asylum within its borders. We Jews know far too well what happens when the world closes its doors to those forced to flee their homes.

“The asylum seekers who have come to Israel are escaping torture, enslavement, and war. We are angered by reports that many of those who have been deported to Africa have already suffered rape, robbery, torture, and human trafficking.

“We urge your government to start living up to Israel’s international responsibilities as spelled out in the International Convention on the Status of Refugees. This includes providing asylum seekers a fair chance to file applications for refugee status, and refraining from deporting asylum seekers to countries that cannot guarantee their safety. This also entails that your government begin to examine these applications in an effective, fair, transparent, and impartial manner.

“The Torah teaches, “The ger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were gerim in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). Our own experience of slavery and liberation, and our own experience as refugees, compel us to act with mercy and justice toward those seeking refuge among us. Please affirm these Jewish values, as well as Israel’s international commitments, by stopping the deportations.”

The letter and a full, continually-updated list of signatories can be found here.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism explained:

Ensuring the safety of refugees is an inherently Jewish value. On reaching Israel, asylum seekers should be met with compassion and fairness, and not with an impossible ultimatum.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism said:

I find it hard to describe how terrible it would be if Israel deported against their will refugees who have fled persecution and horror. It would be utterly shaming for us all. We must do everything to assist the many voices in Israel passionately opposed to this.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Director of Strategy and Partnerships for Liberal Judaism, and spokesperson for the Alliance for Progressive Judaism said:

As Progressive Jews we have committed much time, energy and resources to supporting refugees in this country. As a committed Zionist movement is equally our responsibility to speak up and ensure our voice is heard when we feel the Israeli government is not acting in the way we expect it to. A country built by many people fleeing their homelands needs to show compassion to those who enter her seeking refuge.

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January 2018