Monday, August 20, 2007

Open Up

Yesterday, CNN reported that Israel will stop letting in refugees from the Darfur conflict who have been trying to cross over from the Egyptian border. In Egypt, African refugees from Darfur have faced brutal discrimination, including state-sponsored violence. Refugees attempting to cross into Israel have been shot and beaten to death by Egyptian security forces. Israeli forces haven't beaten anybody, but they score no points by sending desperate men, women, and children back into the hands of those who would.

The Washington Post picked up the story today, and added some details.
Israel sent back the first group of 48 African refugees through the Karm Abu Salim, or Kerem Shalom, crossing with Egypt late Saturday night, Egyptian and Israeli officials confirmed. Egypt said the deportees included refugees from Darfur.

Israel apparently expelled them without hearings, in contravention of a refugee accord it has signed that requires countries to determine whether deportation will subject asylum-seekers to mistreatment, said Ben-Dor, the Israeli refugee lawyer.

More than half the members of Israel's parliament, including opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, signed a petition earlier this month urging Israel not to send the refugees back to Egypt.

"The refugees need protection and sanctuary and the Jewish people's history as well as democratic and humanitarian values make it a moral imperative for us to give them that shelter," the Israeli lawmakers wrote.

"The expulsion is an inhumane act that violates international law," said lawmaker Dov Khenin of the Hadash party, according to the Haaretz newspaper Web site.

I have absolutely no sympathy for Israel in this situation. A country founded by a people fleeing from genocidal violence simply cannot turn away those fleeing from murderous ethnic violence of their own. That they have done so in violation of refugee conventions makes the crime even worse. If Israel feels there is a potential security threat (and I've read nothing to that effect), then it should grant temporary sanctuary while negotiating third-party asylum. Sending them back is not an option.

I am intrigued by the break-down of who is lining up where on this issue within the Israeli political establishment. The Hadash party is an Arab-dominated anti-Zionist Marxist party (and a relatively small one at that, with three seats in the Knesset). On the other hand, Bibi Netanyahu is chairman of the mainline conservative Likud Party, and not one I'd expect to see speaking out in favor of the rights of Muslim refugees. The government of Israel is currently a center-left coalition, and I can't imagine there is strong support within it to send these refugees back. Since the article says that more than half of Knesset members have spoken out in opposition to the planned expulsion, there remains hope that there could be a reversal of the Israeli position on this. I hope there is, because the current stance is not just embarrassing, it's criminal.


Malcolm said...

Israel and the double standard
Posted on August 20th, 2007 at 9:30 am by Meryl Yourish.

Filed under: Israeli Double Standard Time, Media Bias, World

It’s funny when you compare the response to stories like this, where a Hamas children’s program demonstrates cruelty to animals while ostensibly teaching children not to be cruel to animals, with the response to stories about Israel refusing to accept any more African refugees. The Hamas children’s show story got limited play, of course, while the Israel/Darfur story is already developing very long legs. The AP had constantly updating stories out on it over the weekend, and more today. The New York Times and the Washington Post have picked up the story and run with it.

I am decidedly torn about Israel’s response to these people. Some of them are refugees from Darfur. Others are simply people trying to find work and a better life for themselves. Still others are leaving Egypt because Egypt’s treatment of African refugees is despicable. They have beat and murdered refugees without compunction, and why wouldn’t they? The world stands by and ignores it, even when the AP puts a boilerplate into every one of its articles pointing out that the Egyptian police murdered 30 Sudanese when “clearing a refugee encampment.” Where is the UN Refugee Agency on this issue? Why no statements from the Secretary General demanding that Egypt follow international law and stop treating the refugees so cruelly? Where is the UN’s response to the Egyptian border police’s murder of Sudanese refugees trying to escape into Israel? How is it that those incidents pass relatively unnoticed by the world, yet Israel’s policy on refugees crossing the border from Israel merits over 400 articles now, double what it was yesterday, and five times the number of stories that went out about Hamas’ animal cruelty-slash-brainwashing video.

Once again, we see the world’s double standard for Israel—and Jews—in full swing. Because Jews suffered, they are obliged to never let other people suffer on their watch. Because modern Israel was created partly due to the world’s guilt over the Holocaust, Israel must rescue all the refugees from all violence all over the world—or so goes the current thinking. And it is right there in the lede of all the AP articles speeding ’round the world.

Israel said Sunday it would no longer accept refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region, touching off debate over whether the Jewish state, founded after the Nazi genocide, has a duty to take in people fleeing persecution.

Israel has been grappling for months with how to deal with a swelling flow of Africans, including some from Darfur, who have crossed its porous southern border with Egypt’s Sinai desert. Overnight, Israel returned 48 Africans to Egypt.

My gut reaction is that Israel should take care of these people—but then I have to wonder, why is the UN not taking care of the refugees in Egypt? Why is it that only Palestinian “refugees” are on the UN docket in that part of the world? And why is it that once again, the world expects Jews to prevent all other people from suffering, simply because we suffered so much ourselves? It’s that old double standard, and the impossible expectations the world puts on Jews. No such onus is put on Egypt. It’s as if the world expects Egypt to behave badly, and thus, finds no compunction in the double standard here:

The announcement, raising new concerns over the refugees’ safety, heightened a debate in Israel over what responsibilities a nation created by survivors of genocide in Europe bore toward people fleeing mass killing in Africa.

It was unclear Sunday whether Egypt would in turn deport the refugees to their countries of origin. Israel had received assurances from Egypt that it would not send Sudanese refugees to their troubled home country, an Israeli official said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Egyptian police told the Associated Press, however, that Egypt would send the Sudanese back to Sudan. An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel had sought no assurances about the future of the refugees. “Israel just said, ‘Please take them,’ ” the Egyptian official said.

What is the angle of the article? That Israel is expelling Sudanese refugees back into Egypt, thus possibly contravening international law regarding refugees (there’s an incredible debate going on in Israel over this issue right now, and none that I know of in Egypt). The angle should be that Egypt is returning refugees to Darfur, not that Israel is returning refugees to Egypt.

But the same articles that use the Holocaust so accusingly haven’t so much as noticed that Israel is currently struggling to make sure her own people—including Holocaust survivors—are being taken care of. And Israel is at war. Rockets are falling on her towns nearly every day. Schoolchildren are at risk, and will be going to school without properly fortified shelters. In short, Israel has problems of her own. That never comes up when the world has a chance to show how imperfect Israel is.

The Israel-haters are already out in the comments sections of the newspaper articles, having a field day. Look, they scream, Israel’s refusing to accept refugees, just like the rest of the world did to the Jews in the 1940s. Except it’s not just like the rest of the world.

These refugees are coming from Egypt. They have not been expelled from Egypt. They have left Egypt because they don’t like the treatment they’re receiving there. This is a problem that could be solved by simply holding Egypt up to a higher standard, and insisting that Egypt follow international law and accept and treat well Sudanese refugees.

That isn’t the story, however. The story is that Israel is refusing to accept every single refugee from Africa that crosses the border illegally from Egypt. But that isn’t true. There are many in Israel, including the Prime Minister’s wife, who are calling for Israel to help the refugees from Darfur—but not open their borders to all.

The Israeli prime minister’s wife, Aliza Olmert, has also expressed sympathy for the plight of the refugees and become active on their behalf. She personally intervened in one case where a small girl had been left behind in Egypt after her parents dashed across the border into Israel. Mrs. Olmert appealed to President Mubarak’s wife for help, and the girl was reunited with her parents in Israel.

Mrs. Olmert wrote an article earlier this month titled “Exodus: Sudan,” tracing the journey of the refugees pouring across the border from Egypt into Israel. It was published in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

“The mercy we can give these broken people is to quickly identify those who are eligible for refugee status and speed along their absorption in Israel,” Mrs. Olmert wrote.

“As for the wave of economic migrants,” she added, “we cannot handle it — we must be compassionate, but also firm. What we must not do is send them packing back to Egypt without receiving assurances that they will be treated fairly.”

This is not just an example of the Israeli double standard, but also an example of the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. The world expects Egypt to behave in a cruel, brutal, and inhumane manner to African refugees, and turns a blind eye to such cruelty—and then blames Israel when Israel refuses to accept Egypt’s escapees. That soft bigotry will create outraged editorials and op-eds that will read something like this, “Of course Egypt should be taking better care of the Sudanese refugees, BUT—” followed by a long harangue of why Israel should accept those same refugees, and no more mention of Egypt’s responsibility to the refugees.

And no one—no one—will take note of the incredible double standard to which Israel is held.

Well, I do. Once again, it’s Israeli Double Standard Time. It occurs every day of the week that ends with a “y.”

PG said...

I didn't realize Yourish's opinion of animals was so high -- or of Africans so low -- that she thinks Hamas's cruelty to animals should receive the same level of coverage as Israel's neglect of humanitarian and international legal obligations to black refugees.

(Yes, that was a cheap shot, but was the coverage of Hamas's animal cruelty really the best example she could come up with of the media's double standard? Jeebus. I'm very barely pro-Zionist, and even I can do better than that.)

Anonymous said...

Its funny how the Jews had their hands out after the Holocaust, and now their closing their hands when someone else is in need.And they wonder why their hated so much.