Seeking Asylum, Sudanese Face Israeli Prison

Israel Building Detention Center for 15,000 Refugees

History of Pain: Sudanese refugees from Darfur, where the government has been accused of genocide, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
Getty Images
History of Pain: Sudanese refugees from Darfur, where the government has been accused of genocide, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

By Ben Lynfield

Published October 19, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Yishai, a leader the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party Shas, defends his plan as a demographic imperative. He cites legislation passed by the Knesset in January that provides for incarceration for up to three years of ”infiltrators.”

Yehezkeli told the Forward that his boss views the Sudanese and other ‘’infiltrators’’ from Africa as a demographic threat to the state’s Jewish character.

“They do this by the very act of coming here,” Yehezkeli said. “There is a Jewish state, and the state cannot absorb them. The possibility that they remain here means turning Israel into a state of all its citizens, something that contravenes the Declaration of Independence and everything that was behind the establishment of the state.”

Government statistics do not support the view that Israel’s Jewish character is under demographic threat from asylum seekers. The total number of asylum seekers in Israel is estimated at 60,000 in a population of 7,765,700. And in recent months there has been a dramatic drop in the number of asylum seekers entering Israel, a trend attributed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the erection of a fence along the Egyptian border.

The drop-off started in June, when 928 asylum seekers entered compared with 2,031 in May. In July, 280 people entered; in August, 199, and in September, 122.

Despite this, the asylum seekers remain potent political fodder for Yishai and other right-wing politicians whose declarations on the issue reflect and stoke pre-existing animosity against the Africans.

“Most of the people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man,” Yishai told the daily newspaper Ma’ariv on June 3 in one such statement. In fact, most of the immigrants from South Sudan and Eritrea are Christians. Yishai’s own family immigrated to Israel from Tunisia in the 1950s.

Many lower-income Israeli residents of the neighborhoods in which the immigrants have settled are especially supportive of Yishai’s initiative. On Salame Street in Tel Aviv, near where Hamad and many other Sudanese live, there was scant sympathy for their situation.

“Children can’t walk around here alone,” said Elvin Khamkayer, 31, who works in a fabric store. “There has been a wave of sexual attacks on young girls, and they bring all kinds of diseases from Africa. I know they also have to live, but if it is either us or them, then I prefer us.’’

Yehuda Bauer, a leading Holocaust scholar and academic adviser to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum, termed the idea of imprisoning the Sudanese to safeguard Israel’s Jewish character “nonsense.” Noting that Israel continues to bring in legal foreign workers from Asia, he said, “We could permit the Eritreans and north Sudanese to work instead of taking more people from Thailand and the Philippines. This would keep them occupied, help the Israeli economy and comply with international law. But the attitude of the ultra-Orthodox is clearly racist. If they were Norwegians, they wouldn’t be put for three years in a detention camp in the desert.”

Orit Marom, a spokeswoman for the group Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers, a co-plaintiff in the court petition against Yishai’s plan, does not blame Yishai alone for the initiative. The other ministers “are approving this huge outrage with their silence,” she said.

Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on the issue for this article.

Contact Ben Lynfield at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.