ARZENU established a social advocacy committee in February 2015. The committee generated the following statement on asylum seekers.

ARZENU, the global Reform Zionist organization, has called on the Government of Israel to reconsider and change its policy towards the non-Jewish asylum seekers and refugees seeking protection in the Jewish State, particularly in light of the news that 3 of them, effectively deported from Israel, have been killed by the so-called Islamic State in Libya.

“During a visit to Israel to participate in meetings of the World Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency we were invited to visit the Holot Detention camp in the Negev that houses African men who have fled to Israel from Eritrea and Darfur. The young men whom we met told us that they had agreed to go there in order to expedite the processing of their applications for asylum following years of living in limbo in Israel” said ARZENU Chair, Rabbi Lawrence Englander of Toronto.

“We were distressed to learn that nothing of the sort has taken place.  These young men escaped horrid conditions in Africa to seek temporary asylum in the one country in the region that they believed would understand their plight. Instead, the Government of Israel has refused to grant them work permits, compelling them to live in parks and seek menial day labour. Their applications for refugee status were ignored, and they were duped into travelling to this terrible camp where they have remained without hope or support, even after the flow of such people was halted.”

“Recently we learned that the Attorney General has authorized their deportation to countries where they have no connections, and where they face persecution, imprisonment and even possible death.  We met and spoke with these people and we know that they have no desire to make Israel their permanent home.  They all long to return to their homelands and to their families, hoping that conditions there will improve sufficiently to allow them to return safely.”

As ardent supporters and defenders of Israel we constantly speak of Israel’s many achievements and gifts to the world.  We understand that, as a small country, there is a limit to the number of asylum seekers that Israel can absorb.  However, we remember the time when Israel was among the first of the world’s nations to welcome the Vietnamese “boat people” who sought refuge from similar persecution. After all, the Torah

reminds us many times to treat the stranger with compassion since we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.  We are also mindful of Israel’s exemplary response to the recent disaster in Nepal and ask the Government of Israel to extend such compassion to those who have undergone extreme hardship and now seek the protection and care of the Jewish State.

ARZENU’s support for Israel as a democratic and caring nation compels us to express disappointment to the Prime Minister and Government of Israel, and to request that the Government of Israel reconsiders the current policy and takes steps to provide help and support to these people seeking refuge during their time of need.

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