How Can Israeli’s Be Racist Towards Sudanese Refugees?

Something funny happened here in America back in 2005: there was a major hurricane; a lot of people died; those who survived were relocated to other U.S. cities while waiting for the water to recede, were labeled as refugees; yes, refugees. It was as if New Orleans was suddenly reduced to being a third world country hence the egregious label. I mean last time I checked, to be considered a refugee one had to be fleeing from a foreign country in seek of political asylum. But hey, most of the displaced were, in fact, black folks, so I suppose the mistake was appropriate.

Living on the gulf coast at the time, I remember it very well just how the events after Hurricane Katrina played out. Moreover, the one thing that sticks out in my mind was the response to the many thousands of so-called refugees in various municipalities within which they were forced to call home after the storm. To be quite honest, many of the displaced were not welcome in many municipalities,  and there were many complaints about the existence of potentially criminal-minded individuals from that other country known as New Orleans, spread across America.

I was reminded of this lack of humanity recently when riots broke out in Israel:

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Now at first, I figured if any one group knew what it was like to be displaced, it had to be none other than God’s chosen here on planet earth. I mean there is no way that any Israeli national would be as callous towards the presence of refugees from the Sudan. Or as my man,  of the blog New Possibilities put it, Israel should be the last country on earth to be adverse to the plight of individuals seeking political asylum as refugees just simply trying to live, or maybe get some peace and quiet for a change:

For many years, Jews were persecuted, discriminated against and oppressed in several European nations. During the Nazi era, they were confined to concentration camps, burned in ovens, starved to death, gassed with poison and subjected to other grotesque forms of genocide. Many fled Germany and other European countries in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Many came to Israel in search of peace and security.


In light of that history, Israel should strongly oppose of all forms of oppression. Unfortunately, it does not. Ironically, the Israeli government has become an agent of oppression and intolerance. Not only does Israel oppress the Palestinian people, Israel discriminates against African immigrants. Israel should be ashamed of its racist, anti-African policies and sentiments. (read more)

Ahh yes, that’s when I remembered that Israel is in fact America’s little brother, and as the old saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. As much as racism manages to rear it’s ugly head here in America, it’s beyond reason to believe that reading the Torah daily and having box seats in heaven makes one immune to the disease that is racism, often employed as the tool of choice to advance the concept of White Supremacy, and everything that is right about it. After all, this is the same Israel that the U.S. sided with when they walked out of the United Nations conference on racism, which sought redress by way of reparations for crimes against humanity. My guess is that the guilt of having to own ones crime became too much to bear.

So what is the Israeli government doing about this? Surely they’ll be open to listening to the words of the Sudanese version of Martin Luther King Jr. and do the right thing, yes? Well, not exactly; according to The Jerusalem Post, they’ve decided to do what Conservatives in America advocate. That’s right: deportation. Not exactly the Mitt Romney-styled plan of self-deportation; instead, the Israeli’s have launched a more friendly-sounding policy called “Operation Going Home” and have already started the process of removal of all Sudanese refugees in Israel.

Here’s what happened last weekend:

A plane carrying a group of 123 South Sudanese migrants took off from Ben-Gurion Airport late Sunday night on its way to Juba. It was the first such flight to leave Israel as part of “Operation Going Home,” in which authorities plan to deport South Sudanese in Israel.


The South Sudanese men, women, and children were processed for their flights earlier behind mounds of suitcases inside Ben-Gurion Airport’s Terminal 1. They were joined on the charter flight by four members of a South Sudan diplomatic delegation that came to Israel last Thursday to oversee the administration of the deportations and meet with local members of the South Sudanese community in Israel.


Earlier on Sunday, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said thedeportation of the 700- 1,500 South Sudanese in Israel barelyscratches the surface of solving the migrant problem facing the country.


Yishai said the real problem “is with Eritrea that has 30,000 people [in Israel] and north Sudan with 15,000,” adding that he hopes “that the legal obstacles to this will be lifted soon and we can expel them as well.”


Yishai admitted that the South Sudanese make up only a “drop within a drop” of the 60,000 or so African migrants in Israel, but added that deporting them is a “national interest” and that if he “has to chose between the interests of Israel and the interests of the Sudanese, I will choose Israel.


[…] Gidon Cohen, the head of the encouragement of willful repatriation department of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, said that each South Sudanese adult received $1,300 in cash, with an additional $500 for each minor traveling with them. They were also given vaccines against diseases common to Sub-Saharan Africa.


[…] Escorted by friends and trailed by cameramen and reporters, dozens of South Sudanese men, women, and children filled into buses on the seventh floor of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. As they loaded their bags onto the bus in the midday sun, the migrants described a mixture of feelings. While many spoke of anger towards the anti-migrant atmosphere in Israel and the arrests that accompanied the deportations, others spoke of relief that the deportation saga is coming to an end and happiness about finally returning to their homeland, a new country that did not exist when they fled years earlier.


Andrew Akolawine smiled on the pavement at the bus station, saying “I’ve been here for five years and I’m happy to be going back. You know in any circle, you must end at the point where you start. I started there [South Sudan] and I will finish there, this is enough.”


Akolawine, a father of four, spoke warmly of the Israeli friends he’d made over his years in the country, but added that recent anti-migrant statements by Israeli politicians had soured his opinion of Israel.


Still, he cracked, “I’m very proud that I am part of a people Israel thinks are so important that they don’t talk about the Palestinians anymore, just us.”


[…] Orit Marom of the Assaf NGO, which assists African migrants, called Sunday “a day of shame,” saying that Israel’s Interior Ministry “has trampled on the honor of great friends of Israel, the South Sudanese.” Marom added “the South Sudanese, unlike Eli Yishai, have a big heart and they forgive him.”


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the deportations during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, saying “today the government will begin the operation to repatriate illegal work infiltrators to their countries of origin. We will do this is an orderly and dignified manner.”


Netanyahu also spoke of the government’s efforts to stop the entry of further illegal migrants by finishing construction of the border fence, finishing detention facilities for illegal migrants and using diplomatic steps to find third countries to take in African asylum seekers.


On June 7, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a petition by human rights groups opposed to the deportation of South Sudanese, saying the NGOs did not prove that the South Sudanese would be in physical danger if they were returned home. Though assurances were made that the migrants would be given a week to prepare for deportation, three days later immigration officials began arresting South Sudanese across the country.


The arrests follow a decision announced in January by the Interior Ministry, which gave South Sudanese until April 1 to leave Israel willingly or face deportation.

Perhaps you have not been following much of the immigration debate here in the U.’S. lately. However, if you do, you cannot tell me that what’s happening in Israel does not eerily sound like what’s happening here in America. At the end of the day, I guess it can be said that Israel, like the United States of America, is no country for people of color, or in particular, people of African origin. Which is really sad when you think about the fact that the leader of the so-called free world happens to be a direct descendant of a black man born in Kenya, which makes his U.S. presidency illegitimate. Yeah, it’s really funny to me how that racism thing works; and how it impacts the lives of the dispossessed folk of African origin. I could be wrong, but maybe things would be different if cotton was a cash crop in Israel. Surely they’d be more welcoming and kind just like over here.

So why are there Sudanese refugees? Well, that’s up for debate depending on who you are. But according to a recent report by the United Nations, 2011 was the worst year for refugees across the globe since 2000. According to the report, 4.3 million people were newly displaced. About 800,000 of them fled their countries and became refugees (the remaining people were displaced but did not leave their countries, so they do not meet the definition of “refugee;” rather, they are considered IDPs – internally displaced persons). The report concludes, that at the end of 2011, there were 42.5 million displaced people worldwide — more than the population of Canada.

From the report:

2011 saw suffering on an epic scale. For so many lives to have been thrown into turmoil over so short a space of time means enormous personal cost for all who were affected,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “We can be grateful only that the international system for protecting such people held firm for the most part and that borders stayed open. These are testing times.

Yes, testing times indeed, especially when you consider that much of the displacement is a direct result of policy decisions made by the U.S. and given a stamp of approval by Israel. This is especially troubling when you consider that the UN reports that Afghanistan remains the biggest producer of refugees (2.7 million) followed by Iraq (1.4 million), Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (500,000) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (491,000).  This is particularly sad given that the top two countries producing refugees are places where we went to war.  Clearly, U.S. efforts have failed to make Iraq and Afghanistan safe; at least not in the minds of the millions of people who have decided that they cannot return home. But hey, none of this is racist, right?