Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the growing opposition from the Israeli public to his plans to deport asylum seekers by expressing panic. In a Facebook post earlier this week, he announced that deportation orders were being delivered along with an article about NIF’s investments in efforts to stop the deportations.
The Facebook post was Netanyahu’s response to the fact that Israelis from all walks of life have rushed in with offers of support for the thousands of people seeking refuge who are now facing expulsion from Israel. Holocaust survivors have offered to host people seeking asylum and El Al pilots have said they will refuse to fly the refugees out of the country. Rabbis, doctors, lawyers, students and tens of thousands more have voiced their anger at the government’s plans.
Yael Yechieli Persico, Director of Freedom of Religious and Pluralistic Judaism at Shatil said that she was amazed by the spontaneous outburst of support for the refugees, “It is something that I would never have expected. It has been a pleasant surprise. We have been contacted for advice and assistance by many student and professional groups. For example, we are helping a student group called Israel Haven who are offering to host and protect refugees threatened with expulsion.”
Shatil has offered these organizations consultancy on strategy and help with media coverage.
At the same time NIF and Shatil are working with veteran NIF grantees like Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel to stop the expulsions. NIF itself has issued a number of emergency grants to organizations working to stop the deportations.
There are 38,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Israel who arrived via the Sinai before a border fence was built, fleeing conflict in Eritrea and Sudan. At the start of the year, the government announced a program to deport an estimated 20,000 single men (for the moment the government says it is not deporting married men, women and children). Those with deportation orders are being offered $3,500 as an incentive. If they do not leave within 60 days of receiving a deportation order they can be imprisoned.
Netanyahu’s post may be part of a strategy to weaken public outrage at his policy, but there is no indication this tactic is working.
Despite the groundswell of Israeli public support for those at risk of deportation, it remains unclear what will happen. “Everything is uncertain,” said Yechieli Persico. “The Prison Service has even pointed out that the country’s prisons are overcrowded and cannot take thousands more. Meanwhile it is our duty to fight for the refugees, and to pray and to hope.”