A recent editorial in Al Jazeera by Charlotte Silver criticizes the Israeli asylum system. The first paragraph pretty much sums up the author’s feelings on the matter:
The notion of a “Jewish and democratic state,” never a feasible reality, continues to unravel as its inherent racism is revealed in a new way. Any political discussion of refugees that are of the wrong ethnicity inevitably refers to African migration to Israel as an “existential threat.” Labeling these refugees as “threats” allows the state to criminalize and imprison them. Meanwhile, the country continues to solicit immigrants from East Asia to fulfill the need for cheap labor, and Jewish immigrants to battle the internal demographic war.
To win asylum in Israel, you must show by a preponderance of evidence that your home government is meshugina.
There certainly are legitimate bases to criticize the Israeli asylum system (more on that below), but given the asylum systems–or lack thereof–in the Arab World, such criticism is hypocritical coming from Al Jazeera. For one thing, unlike the large majority of countries on Earth, many Arab countries have not accepted the Refugee Convention and offer no protection to people fleeing persecution. Further, wealthy countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait are well known for their abusive treatment–akin to slavery–of foreign guest workers. Given the absolute disaster that foreign asylum seekers face in Arab countries, Al Jazeera would do better to concentrate on the failures at home rather than complain about what the Israelis are doing. It’s kind of like an F student criticizing an A student because he missed a question on the test (ok, maybe it’s more like an F student criticizing a C student, but you get the point).
That said, the Israeli asylum system is far from perfect. A thoughtful–and very critical–academic article from 2010 by Professor Tally Kritzman examines the Israeli system, which was created in 2002 (although Israel has been a party to the Refugee Convention since 1954). Essentially, the article argues that the Israeli asylum system is “an extension of Israel’s immigration and citizenship regime, which excludes the non-Jewish refugees and frames the refugee as the ‘other,’ with the Palestinians and other enemy nationals facing maximum exclusion.” While asylum seekers are considered “others” in many countries, Prof. Kritzman argues that in Israel such people are “more ‘other’ than elsewhere.”
Despite the problems, Israel is making an effort to improve its asylum system. At the request of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, in 2010 Israel partnered with the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, UNHCR, and USCIS to help train asylum officers. Hopefully this new effort will lead to an improved asylum system that will treat asylum seekers more correctly under international law and distinguish such people from immigrants to Israel.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.