Israelis Win Asylum in U.S. — But Mostly Not for Politics

Odd Mix of Reasons for Fleeing 'Persecution' in Jewish State

An odd mix of Israelis win asylum in the U.S. each year, a status that means a judge finds they have reasonable fear of persecution at home. They include Palestinians, gays, and domestic abuse victims.
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An odd mix of Israelis win asylum in the U.S. each year, a status that means a judge finds they have reasonable fear of persecution at home. They include Palestinians, gays, and domestic abuse victims.

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 17, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
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They are a strange and quirky mix: a handful of Israeli citizens and residents, and Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, who each year are granted political asylum from the United States.

One, an Arab citizen of Israel, is a gay man who convinced authorities he would face violence from his own family and tribe if forced to return to Israel. Lack of adequate action by Israeli police played a role in the approval of the request, his attorney said.

Another is an Israeli woman who suffered domestic abuse. She also received asylum after making the case that Israeli authorities were not protecting her.

Yet a third is the son of a founder of Hamas who, after spying on the terrorist-designated group for Israeli authorities, felt unsafe under Israeli protection and fled to the United States in fear for his life.

Israel is not the first country that comes to mind when discussing foreign nationals being granted asylum in the United States. Asylum is a rare immigration procedure designed to provide relief to the most difficult cases of persecution in one’s home country.

Still, United States Customs and Immigration Service data reveal that each year, a handful of Israelis or those living under Israeli jurisdiction are granted asylum status in America. In 2011, the last year reported, 18 Israeli nationals were approved for asylum — similar to the number in 2010. In previous years, some 20 to 30 residents of Israel or the Israeli-occupied West Bank or Gaza settled in the United States after convincing authorities they could not safely return to their homes.

The cases do not form a pattern. They include Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews and Eastern European women brought into Israel by human traffickers.

“Recognition of political asylum is a recognition of the fact that there is something significantly wrong with the host country,” said Michael Wildes, an immigration attorney and law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. He noted, however, that citizens of many democracies and nations friendly to the United States receive asylum status for many reasons. “I see nothing in the thousands of cases we represent that will lead me to believe there is some kind of problematic pattern with Israel,” Wildes said.

Indeed, nearly 25,000 foreign nationals were granted asylum in the United States in 2011. China, Cambodia, Colombia, Ethiopia, Haiti and India dominated the list.

Those seeking asylum must prove they face “well-founded fear of persecution” if returned to their home country. This persecution has to relate to the individual’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.


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