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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Still, the question of whether Israel has provided adequate protection to those whom its own laws obligate it to protect pops up elsewhere. Both the gay Israeli Arab and the woman who suffered domestic abuse were granted asylum when immigration authorities found that the government had failed to protect them.

Other Israeli residents who passed the high bar of proving persecution and clear threat include female victims of human trafficking who were smuggled through the Sinai border into the country. These women faced imprisonment in Israel until their cases were resolved. Many were ultimately deported to their country of origin. But some were simply released and made their way to the United States, where they were able to convince authorities that they would face a dire fate if returned to their homes.

So far the United States is not known to have granted asylum to anyone living under Israel’s jurisdiction who has claimed political persecution. Lawyers working on the issue have advised Israeli clients not to seek such status even if they’ve been sentenced to prison in Israel for being conscientious objectors who refused to carry out military assignments involved with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Until recently, the United States’ neighbor to the north was seen as a safe haven for just such people. Just as it once offered refuge to young Americans fleeing the draft, Canada has approved dozens of asylum requests from individuals claiming political persecution by Israel since 2000. These cases included Israeli citizens who claimed they were persecuted for opposing the occupation and ultra-Orthodox Jews who claimed they could not maintain their faith there freely. Canada has also granted asylum status to Israelis who came originally from the former Soviet Union but claimed they faced discrimination in their new home.

In 2006, the Israeli government protested Canada’s asylum policies. And in the past two years the number of Israelis receiving asylum in Canada has declined. In 2011, an Israeli reservist who refused to serve in the Gaza Strip was denied asylum in Canada following a court ruling that he could not prove the military mission involved humanitarian abuses.

An Israeli diplomatic official said that the scarcity of asylum cases in the United States did not require the Israeli government to bring up the issue with Washington. The official added that the few cases in which Israelis were granted asylum in America represented “unusual circumstances” and did not reflect on Israel’s democracy.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman


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