(This post was originally written for the "Times of Israel" on October 21st, 2013. The original can be found here).
I'm not sure if you've seen the current video being shared virally about the situation with the illegal immigrants in Israel. It's gone viral to an extent that not even Grumpy Cat can compare to. In the past hour, I've counted sixteen people on my Facebook list of friends who've shared it. If you haven't seen the video, you can probably access it here under the title: Israel's New Racism.
What confuses me about this current video being circulated regarding the issue of illegal immigrants and Israel is the awful way so many people are judging Israel. The ridiculous, racist statements in that video do not reflect Israeli society at large, and, what's more, the ridiculous Eli Yishai (whose inane statements have come back to haunt every Jew and Israeli) isn't even in the government anymore. Yes, there are hillbillies in Israel who are racist and stupid - but there are also idiots in all our countries. Do we judge the US based on Rush Limbaugh? Or Saudi Arabia based on Osama bin Laden? Or France based on Gerard Depardieu? If not, then why use the folly of that video - voiced by a small segment of Israeli society - to color the nation as a whole?
We must also consider this glaring truth: if Israel was so godawful to these illegal immigrants - why do they keep going there? Perhaps - just perhaps - the situation is better in Israel than any other country in that area, and this is why the illegal refugees keep flocking to Israel, despite the overtures of this video to brand Israel - once again - as a brutal oppressor? Already, by January of 2012, the number of illegal immigrants numbered some 55,000 souls - and, today, they amount to over 60,000 persons, with the numbers growing daily. If Israel were so bad, would they keep coming? And, if you are going respond blithely that they come because it's better than their home country, yet, Israel is treating them unfairly, then I must ask the question: why are they going to Israel, specifically, and not Egypt, Sudan or Ethiopia?
No country just automatically allows illegal immigrants to settle there. Is it racist that the UK, Italy, Japan, France and China subscribe to jus sanguinis? Is it racist that the US dispenses only 50,000 green cards to lucky winners in a lotto each year and turns down thousands more each month? Is it racist that one must qualify to apply for Australian citizenship - after having met certain, crucial criteria? Is it racist that Canada has deported thousands of illegal Caribbean citizens back to their home countries? Is it racist that none of us can just pick up ourselves and go live, work and start a family in Mongolia - without first having been given permission to do so by the Mongolian government? Consider, in your own country, would the government sit quietly and grant citizenship to 60,000 random people who suddenly show out of the blue? A government's first responsibility is to it's own citizens; refugees, who are vying for citizenship are not a government's first priority, though they must be considered carefully, fairly and with compassion. The issue of refugees and illegal immigrants is a delicate and sensitive one in every country, and more so in Israel - a country built on immigrants and refugees. It is a complicated situation and I can offer no solution. I feel for the refugees, but, at the same time, I understand the difficulties Israel (a country of only 7 million people) faces with this complex issue of illegal refugees. As Jews, we are commanded to love the stranger - but, is loving the stranger an automatic granting of Israeli citizenship, or, is it somehow trying to change the situation in the home-country of these illegal immigrants and make things better for them there? How does Israel make this wrong - a wrong it did not commit and a wrong which it has been dragged into unwillingly - right? I don't know the answer - but I don't think automatically granting every single one of these poor people Israeli citizenship will solve the problem. Do these people even want to live in Israel? Do they want citizenship in a country which speaks a language, practices a culture, and lives a religion entirely different from everything they know? Or are they simply there because they are waiting it out - waiting for things to get better back home? For every sharer of that video who condemns Israel for being supposedly "racist" against the illegal refugees, I must draw a parallel to your own racism: you are assuming these people want to be in Israel, and want Israeli citizenship. Your stereotyping underlines your own racism and refusal to look at these poor souls as individuals with different hopes, dreams and aspirations - many of whom, I'm sure, would love nothing more than to be back in the comfort and familiarity of their home country, with the promise of a peaceful, secure and economically-viable future to look forward to, rather than living in the very foreign Israel.
My heart goes out to these people who are coming to Israel and seeking asylum in the Jewish state, but at the same time, why has there been no recognition of the fact that Israel has let these people in and allowed them to stay? Why is there no coverage of Egypt's treatment of these people: brutal execution, rapes, or immediate deportation back to their home country where certain death awaits these poor souls?
In discussing this current dilemma Israel faces, we cannot ignore the glaring fact, that, with the influx of illegal immigrants, there's been a huge upsurge in crime (murders, rapes - including rape of elderly Israeli women - and theft) and southern Tel Aviv is now, practically, unlivable for Israeli citizens. I understand that Israel - given its unique Jewish history regarding the holocaust - would be judged by a different standard than the rest of the world; and one would expect Israel to just take these poor people in, since the country was founded to take in the Jewish oppressed and poor of the world - but the question to be asked is: how? How does a tiny country like Israel deal with a refugee crisis of this magnitude? Should Israel grant them all citizenship? How? Does every Syrian refugee get citizenship in Turkey? Has Lebanon, or Syria given any Palestinian refugee citizenship? No (interestingly, the only place where Palestinians got citizenship was in Israel - 20% of the Israeli population are Arabs, but not many know that). So how does Israel deal with this situation, pray tell?
Furthermore, once again, in the comments being left by viewers of the video, we see words being twisted to describe this situation; words which were created reflect the unique horror of Jewish history, but, which, instead, are a modern, sick twisting, to turn the formerly oppressed into today's oppressors. Words like "pogrom", "Nazi" and "gas chamber" are used in response to the dispensation of this video. These words have been bandied about to, simply, discredit Israel and add legitimacy to the claim that Israel is an oppressor nation. I'm not sure what the conditions are like in the camps being built to house these people - and, to be sure, I'm sure it's not a place any of us would like to live. However, at the end of the day, Israel is trying it's best to give these people shelter and isn't sending them back to the murderous regimes in power in their home countries. Israeli money is being used to build these camps (termed "prisons" in the video) to keep these people safe and fed. Israel continues to open its doors for these illegal immigrants - while Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan and all the other countries which border the troubled state of Eritrea don't. What's factual is that none of the racist Israeli people in the video ever called for killing any illegal immigrant; rather, they agitate for, simply, the deportation of these souls. Israel may not be perfect - and it may not be handling this situation according to what other's think it should do - but until one of the people who share this video and believes in it's veracity start agitating for the Eritrean refugees to come to their countries, or until they start sending money for Israel to raise the living conditions in the camps, then I think they're being pretty hypocritical and simply demonstrating that this has less to do with the refugee crisis, and more to do with bringing down the Jewish state.