Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ethiopian Jews

Israel Can’t Solve Africa’s Problems

It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.

That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.

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It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.

That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.

Those who are quick to accuse Israel of racism should remember that it went to great trouble and expense to facilitate the mass immigration of tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the past generation. Though the absorption of these immigrants has been a bumpy road for many, the nation took great pride in their coming and has done its often-inadequate best to care for them.

The Jewish tradition of caring for the homeless and the stranger has created a large degree of sympathy for the African migrants in Israel. But while it was possible for the country to take in the initial small numbers who found their way there, including those seeking political asylum, now that the rate is up to 1,000 new illegals a month, the situation has gotten out of hand. Israel simply hasn’t the ability to care for or employ that many people who have no ties to the place.

Moreover, no matter how immigrant-friendly Israel may be, any nation has the right and the duty to police its borders. As is the case with America’s southern border, there are no easy or simple solutions–people who want to come will find a way to get in. But no nation can be expected to just simply accept such a situation, especially when it brings with it a rise in crime and other social pathologies. Though nothing justifies some of the unfortunate statements made yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel has a right to ask those who arrive without permission to leave and to ensure that those illegals who keep coming are kept out.

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