Commentary Magazine


Can Israel Solve Africa’s Economic Woes?

One of the leading talking points of Israel-bashers these days is the treatment of African economic migrants who have illegally crossed into the Jewish state. Nearly 60,000 of these people who are for the most part from the Sudan or Eritrea and have no ties to the country or claim on its people have made their way to Israel in the last several years. In a nation of only seven million people living in a country the size of New Jersey, that’s the equivalent of about 2.7 million illegal immigrants showing up in the Garden State. As such, a group of this size arriving uninvited present a huge problem for any nation, even one whose entire identity is based on immigration, as is Israel’s.

But instead of sympathy or perhaps a helping hand from an international community that surely bears more responsibility for the plight of people from the Horn of Africa than Israel, its struggles to deal with this insoluble problem have become yet another club with which anti-Zionists seek to delegitimize the Jewish state. This is hypocrisy of the first order and the inordinate attention given these Africans by the Western media—such as the article published today by the New York Times—in a world where tens of millions of refugees and economic migrants are to be found, once again illustrates the double standard by which Israel is judged on any conceivable issue.

It is to be conceded that not everyone in Israel has behaved appropriately toward the migrants. Anger, insults, and threats from people in neighborhoods where illegals have concentrated, as well as from a few rabble-rousing politicians, hasn’t helped the country’s reputation. The plight of people stuck in limbo without legal status where they are and nowhere else to go should arouse the sympathy of any decent person. But the notion that it is somehow Israel’s responsibility to cope with the impact of economic distress in the Horn of Africa is not a defensible or reasonable position to take.

Were that many people to show up in virtually any country in the world, especially all the other countries of the Middle East which are ruled by various kinds of tyrants, it doesn’t take much imagination to consider the kind of treatment they would get. But in democratic Israel where Jewish religious values about welcoming the stranger are part of the culture, these African newcomers have been spared the sort of abuse they would have gotten anywhere else in the region. Indeed that, and the fact that Israel has a booming First World economy, is the only reason why so many have tried to sneak into Israel to find work. Were they just a few, they might well have been allowed to stay. But once the number reached the tens of thousands, with many working illegally and with some committing crimes, that wasn’t an option. Since deportation back to their home countries would likely result in dire consequences for the migrants and no one else wants them, Israel is stuck with them until someone can come up with a solution.

For Israel-haters, the scattered sentiments of some Israelis in South Tel Aviv neighborhoods that found themselves hosting thousands of desperate illegals and suffering the normal increase in crime as a result is proof that racism is normative behavior in the state. But anyone who knows anything about Israel’s history knows that this is bunk. Israel absorbed tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the last 30 years. Though their absorption has not been seamless or without incident, they are now part of the fabric of the country, serve in the army, and even in the Knesset.

But under what distorted sense of morality is Israel held to be particularly at fault for treating people who cross its borders illegally as having committed a criminal act and therefore subject to detention? Even if you are deeply sympathetic to the migrants, as many Israelis are, is there a sovereign nation in the world that does not feel entitled to control its borders, especially when those frontiers also need to be defended against terrorists and hostile powers? Do those who protest Israel’s treatment of these people, in which many are kept in open detainment centers think that other democracies, such as the United States, would treat such people any better? Under those circumstances how can any reasonable person criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to defend his country’s borders and to enforce its laws.

Many of the migrants claim they are seeking political asylum rather than just jobs, but this is patently untrue of most of them, as their behavior has suggested. If Westerners would like to help them, they are free to welcome them into their own countries. Failing that, Israel deserves either some constructive help, such as an international diplomatic initiative that would force Sudan and Eritrea to guarantee their safety upon their return home, or be allowed to deal with the situation as best they can. Until they do either of those things or come up with a solution that doesn’t involve Israel being forced to accept economic refugees as legal immigrants in a manner that no other nation on the planet would ever consider, Western critics should pipe down.

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