Jews across the United States, Canada, and England marched to Israeli embassies and consulates in the bitter cold last week. They had a message to deliver. They were there to drop off a letter addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with 877 signatures from Rabbis, Cantors, and seminary students – the list has since grown to over 900.
Clergy from across all the denominations came together in a plea to the Israeli government to stop the deportation of tens of thousands of African people seeking asylum in Israel. The signers asked the government to create an objective and efficient process that fairly examines each person’s case for refugee status.
The initiative was a partnership of the New Israel Fund, HIAS, T’ruah, and Right Now. The letter stated,
“as a country founded by refugees, and whose early leaders helped to craft the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel must not deport those seeking asylum within its borders. We Jews know far too well what happens when the world closes its doors to those forced to flee their homes.”
There are 38,000 people seeking asylum in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea. In recent months, their situation has become increasingly tenuous due to new legislation and changes in governmental policy. Under the new policy many of these people seeking refuge will have to choose between agreeing to “self-deport” to countries such as Rwanda where they once again face dangers or face indefinite imprisonment.
“The defining narrative of the Torah is the story of our people’s passage from slavery to freedom. The Torah is also pretty explicit about what the point of that story is,” says Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits, NIF’s Southern California Regional Director. “It’s about instilling in the new Jewish nation compassion for other outsiders, ‘because you were slaves in the land of Egypt.'”
Representatives from the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructing Judaism, and Orthodox movements from North America, Israel, Europe, and Australia all signed on to this letter. Pelcovits says, “I was very proud of the diversity of our signatory list, which included friends and teachers across movement lines. This isn’t about a specific movement or political orientation, but about who we all are as Jews.”