Advocates Spotlight Plight of African Immigrants in Israel

Los Angeles Event Calls for Tolerance for Asylum Seekers

Hatred Rules: African immigrants targeted by violent mobs in south Tel Aviv last summer. A forum in Los Angeles addressed some of the issues the newcomers face.
getty images
Hatred Rules: African immigrants targeted by violent mobs in south Tel Aviv last summer. A forum in Los Angeles addressed some of the issues the newcomers face.

By Lia Mandelbaum and Anne Cohen

Published January 29, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

American advocacy groups called for improved treatment for African immigrants and asylum seekers in Israel during a public forum in Los Angeles this week.

“Infiltrators or Refugees?” organized by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel was held at the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles section on Jan. 27. The event was meant to provide a forum for dialogue about how the Jewish state is responding to asylum claims by mostly Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, and how American Jewish communities can get involved to ensure that these refugees have a voice.

For HIAS, the goal is to change the rhetoric around these refugees, often portrayed by the Israeli media as being “infiltrators,” “migrants,” and a “cancer on society.”

Mark Hetfield, President and interim CEO at HIAS, said that the situation should be viewed as an influx of refugees from repressive regimes, rather than an invasion of criminals.

Hetfield reminded the audience that Jews were once strangers in the land of Egypt, and needed the help of others to survive.

“We should help others the way we were helped,” he said. “Or should have been helped.”

According to Hetfield and Maya Paley, founder and campaign manager for Right Now, Israel has a backlog of over 60, 000 asylum requests, the majority of which are by Eritreans and Sudanese.

The treatment of African refugees in Israel, mainly Eritrean or Sudanese, has been a hot-button issue in the last couple of years.

“In Spring 2012, the high influx of African asylum seekers led to protests; xenophobic rhetoric from politicians; and violence against asylum seekers, their homes, and property,” a statement released by HIAS stated. “Those asylum seekers who have entered are immediately detained and .. . can be held for three years or, in some cases, indefinitely.”

Paley explained that the Jewish community has a chance to be a force for change in this situation. Referring to the efforts made on behalf of Darfuri refugees, resulting in access to education and health care, she called for the American Jews to create petitions and raise the issue with Israeli politicians.

The Refugee Rights Convention of 1951 was drafted as a response to the millions of Europeans, particularly Jews, seeking refuge in foreign countries after the Holocaust and World War II. Israel signed the Convention in 1954.

Supporters can get information by contacting Right Now and may sign an online petition


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!
  • 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."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • 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.