How not to keep Israel Jewish

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Jan. 8, 2018) – The Netanyahu government, driven this time by its ultra-Orthodox members, wants to assure us that it’s determined to keep Israel as a Jewish state by preventing the country being overrun by non-Jews. One way to achieve this, it appears, is to get rid of the asylum seekers who got into Israel illegally before a wall was built that now stops hapless refugees from Eritrea, Sudan and other African countries to get in.

Anything between fifty and eighty thousand are in Israel now, many concentrating in a part of Tel Aviv that has made the indigenous population quite uncomfortable. The unwelcome visitors aren’t allowed to work, though many have found illegal employment in largely menial jobs to which, so far, the authorities have turned a blind eye.

The government’s way of protecting the Jewishness of more than six million Jews who live here from these “infiltrators” (as they’re often called) is to act in a scandalously un-Jewish way: to expel them. Some seven decades after the Holocaust, the sovereign Jewish state intends to act against these refugees the way the world acted against the Jews.

Some seven decades after the Holocaust, the sovereign Jewish state intends to act against refugees the way the world acted against the Jews

In an ostensible effort to make the expulsion appear humane, we’ve been told that the government of Israel has come to an agreement with some African governments, notably Rwanda and Uganda, to take in those expelled. Israel would give them some money to help them to resettle. Not only are there rumours that such monies would be taken from them as soon as they arrived in the African country, but we also hear declarations from Uganda and Rwanda that they have no agreement with Israel to take in its rejects.

Some 12,500 of these illegals are said to be currently employed in hotels in Israel. Were they to be expelled, the hotels couldn’t function and Israel’s important tourist industry would be greatly diminished. It seems, therefore, that the government isn’t only shooting itself in the head and in the heart morally but also in the foot economically. All in order to preserve the Jewishness of the Jewish state!

The current decision also tells us that those asylum seekers that cannot be sent away – which may be all of them, if no country will take them – will be put in jail. However, the minister responsible for Israel’s prison service has told the media that the existing prisons couldn’t cope with that. Presumably, therefore, special concentration camps will have to be built. The mind boggles. It seems unseemly even to think of parallels from the past.

Some asylum seekers have found spouses in Israel and many have children born here. They’ve learnt Hebrew in the kindergartens and schools they attend. It’s not clear if they’d be allowed to stay or be expelled (or imprisoned) with the others. No doubt they’d feel as dejected and humiliated about their country of birth as most Polish Jews feel about theirs.

It pains me to write this, but it’s even more painful to remain silent out of a misguided sense of loyalty. It also prompts the question why I choose to live here. The answer is simple: as long as there’re citizens who care and are prepared to vote for democratic, Jewish alternatives, it’s essential that we’re here. Yes, this is my country, warts and all!

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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