Survivors of the Holocaust who live in Israel have joined calls against the deportation from the country of African asylum seekers. Speaking to the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, some of these survivors have suggested that they bear a responsibility to emulate the behavior of the “Righteous among the Nations,” Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews from deportation to Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. A section of the Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust museum, is dedicated to them. “I always asked myself what I would have done if, during the Holocaust, I was on the other side — would I have been strong enough to do what the Righteous Among the Nations did?,” said 73 years old Veronika Cohen to Yedioth Ahronoth.
Hana Arnon, another survivor in her late 70s, said Israelis should emulate those who helped Anne Frank and her family hide until their discovery and deportation by the Nazis. Anne Frank, who wrote a diary before being deported and killed in a concentration camp, lived in hiding in her native Netherlands with her family until Nazi occupation authorities found their hidden shelter.
The tragic story of Anne Frank has also been used in a campaign against the deportation of African asylum seekers from Israel called “Anne Frank Home Sanctuary movement.” Launched by prominent Israeli reform rabbi, Susan Silverman, the movement proposes to shelter African asylum seekers who are due for deportation in order to save them from dangerous prospects upon their return to Africa.
More than 2,000 asylum seekers and Israeli activists gathered on Monday, January 22, outside the Rwandan embassy in Herzliya to protest the government’s efforts to deport them. In recent days, the Population and Immigration Authority has begun informing Eritrean asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in the Negev that they must leave for Rwanda or be imprisoned indefinitely at the Saharonim prison.
The protestors called out in Hebrew, “Stop the unjustified hatred, refugees are people,” “We don’t buy racist plans,” “Recognizing a refugee is a moral duty,” and “We won’t give in to despair, we will stop the deportation.” Demonstrators held signs reading, among other slogans, “From refuge in Rwanda to trafficking in Libya, expulsion to Rwanda – a death sentence,” “Black lives matter – not in Israel” and “Refugees are not for sale.” Another sign was aimed at Rwandan President Kagame, referring to the $5,000 Israel will allegedly pay his country for each asylum seeker it accepts: “How many bombs did our blood buy?”
Rwanda’s government denied on Tuesday, January 23, having reached an agreement with Israel on accepting thousands of asylum seekers slated to be deported. “In reference to the rumors that have recently been disseminated by the media, the Government of Rwanda wishes to announce that it has never signed any secret deal with Israel regarding the relocation of African migrants,” a spokesperson for the Rwandan government tweeted.
A number of pilots from the Israeli airline carrier El-Al have declared that they would not be ready to fly refugees back to African countries, even if they are in Israel illegally. Iddo Elad, Shaul Betzer, Yoel Piterbarg, all El-Al pilots, wrote on Facebook that they would refuse to fly planes “to a destination where [the deported asylum seekers’] chances of surviving (in a ‘third country’) are small.”
Lawmakers, rabbis, students, Holocaust survivors and asylum-seekers united on Wednesday, January 17, in the Israeli Knesset under the banner “not in our name,” in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to deport African migrants. Outside the Knesset ten asylum seekers stood on crate boxes bound by thick metal chains with masking taped-mouths in a dramatic mock ‘slave auction’ while the “auctioneer” shouted: “Get your slaves, slaves for half price.”
“Soon tens of thousands of people will be deported to their deaths and we will stand aside,” Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) warned, addressing the Jerusalem auditorium filled by around two hundred protesters cheering and applauding in support. “We have to stop the expulsions!” he urged.
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