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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“It [is] very difficult for Israelis to prove this kind of persecution,” said immigration attorney Todd Pilcher. “You need to show that the persecution comes from the government or from forces the government cannot control.”

Nationality, however, has nothing to do with the process; even residents of democratic allies of the United States are sometimes judged to have persecuted their citizens under the categories the asylum statutes cover, or to have failed to provide them with adequate protection on similar grounds. In recent years nationals of Canada, France, Germany and Italy have also won asylum in the United States.

“U.S. foreign policy or political considerations are not part of this standard,” said Claire Nicholson, a public affairs officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s hard to determine the nature of individual Israeli asylum requests. Immigration files are closed to the public and court records become available only when they serve as legal precedent. But those cases that have been reported, as well as lawyers representing asylum seekers, point to several groups of Israelis who have been approved for asylum.

Some are Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza who were identified as Israelis because they held Israeli citizenship or resided in Israel-proper. The most famous case in this category is that of Mosab Hassan Yousef, known as “Son of Hamas” because of his father’s role as one of Hamas’s founders. Yousef, who Israeli officials say helped them hunt down Hamas members involved in terrorism, followed his father into Hamas but later converted to Christianity and then worked undercover as an Israeli agent for a decade before fleeing to California in 2007. He was granted asylum by an immigration court judge in 2010, ending his battle against Homeland Security, which sought to deport him.

Since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the United States has also allowed Christian Palestinians who could prove they were persecuted for their religion to seek asylum.

Another group prominent among Israeli asylum seekers is Arab citizens of Israel who claim they were persecuted because of their ethnicity. The first known case, in 2003, involved Ibrahim Baballah, a fisherman from Akko who was found by an immigration court to have suffered repeated harassment from Israel’s navy and from government authorities. Baballah, the court found, demonstrated a “genuine and well-founded fear of future persecution should he return to Israel.”

Other asylum seekers have failed despite similar claims. In 2012, a U.S. court of appeals denied asylum to Saqer Salman, an Israeli Arab who fled the country following death threats and the killing of family members by a rival family. Salman claimed that Israeli authorities would not provide him adequate protection because of his ethnicity. The court found that Israel’s law enforcement and justice systems actively took on the case and brought some of those involved in it to court.


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