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Israel’s Refugee Crisis Blazes New Territory – Some Surprising, Some Not-Even-So
African migrants and Israelis demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on April 3, 2018 against the Israeli government's policy towards African refugees and asylum seekers. (Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s Refugee Crisis Blazes New Territory – Some Surprising, Some Not-Even-So

For the past several years, the state of Israel has been embroiled in a crisis with domestic and foreign overtones unrelated to the Palestinian conflict. Thousands of migrant Africans fleeing their homes for fear of death or to seek a better life have ended up in the Jewish state where an un-welcoming populace is divided between the imperative to preserve nation’s heritage as a harbor of refuge for the disenfranchised and persecuted; and rejecting the foreign population out of fear of what such ad hoc immigration brings with it or the fear of the population being diluted by non-Jewish Africans. Naturally, in a coalition government where the interior ministry is routinely given to the ultra-Orthodox ‘religious’ parties, it’s not difficult to see where government policy holds, especially in a situation where the issue-at-hand is not one of the “Top Ten,” such as defense, education, the economy and so on. The matter has strong foreign policy overtones as well, with decisions necessitated regarding deportation and public statements depicting the nature of regimes with whom the Israelis would like to see improvement in relations — a major plank in the Netanyahu government platform. But as is the wont in the Middle East, nothing is necessarily as it seems, even when it is announced by the prime minister himself. On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu suddenly announced a turn-around deal in which rather than deporting all of the migrants, Israel was to allow 16,000 to remain and an equal number to be sent to participating Western nations. The announcement was a major story, if for no reason than the new plan not only would arguably keep migrants from being returned to nations where their lives may be in danger but signaled extremely rare cooperation between Israel and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees which, like other UN bodies, is normally critical of Israeli policies. Still unsettled after the Netanyahu announcement was the apparent confusion over which nations would participate. Italy and Germany, both thought to have been on board and willing to take in some refugees, responded to news of the deal by denying that they had reached any agreement with Israel or UNHCR. In Israel, right-wing coalition partner Naftali Bennett, education minister who is often named as a possible successor to Netanyahu, said the deal would turn Israel into “a paradise for infiltrators.” But before either set of concerns could be addressed, the PM took another turn (or as they say in Israel, “zig-zagged”) and announced that the agreement with UNHCR was on hold. We’re staying tuned…

 

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