The global refugee crisis and how it affects Israel was one of the topics I didn’t know much about, and neither did most of us at the start of Elliot Glassenberg’s presentation. However, now I have a whole new understanding of the different aspects of this crisis, and why it is important to me as a Jew.
Elliot is involved with the organizations Bina and Right Now which raise awareness and work towards a more just way for people to obtain asylum in Israel based on Zionism and Jewish values. At first, I couldn’t connect the dots between me being Jewish and loving Israel, to these people escaping their countries due to life-threatening conditions. Elliot then said, we as Jews have the opportunity to help others, just as we were refugees after the Holocaust. That immediately got me thinking of my great grandparents and the rest of my family, who didn’t know where to go or how they can escape the atrocities they went through after the Holocaust. I didn’t realize that after the Holocaust, many countries closed their borders to Jewish refugees, so in 1951 at the refugee convention, the definition of “refugee” was created. It basically said a refugee was somebody whose life is being seriously threatened by political or environmental conditions. We watched a YouTube video of people who came to Israel from Africa in search of Asylum, not for work or to infiltrate the country, as some people think of refugees. The refugees made a good point that nobody, especially from certain places in Africa, would risk their lives to get to Israel just to work there. There is no freedom of movement or press in Eritrea. There are genocides in Sudan. In my opinion, people need to realize that people all over the world are being oppressed in their countries, and are only wishing for a better life.
The people’s journeys in the video have a parallel to the Jews in Egypt, which also suddenly made the situation more personal to me. Israel has a whole system for Jewish refugees, but not non-Jews. Now in the last 15 years these non-Jews have come. Nobody wanted to come before due to Israel being a developing country and being dangerous at some points since 1948. But, the whole situation is extremely complicated, because Israel can only do so much. I had no idea that there have been no new Asylum seekers since 2017 when Israel sealed the border. They were deporting refugees to Rwanda, which sparked protests. Israel has such a high population in such a tiny area, especially in South Tel Aviv. They also don’t have economic means to help every refugee and they are constantly getting pressured by the rest of the world. I realized this crisis relates to the Palestinian conflict because Israel cares about what other countries think of them, so they choose to be as humane as possible, with the certain resources they have, in order to appease the rest of the world.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized how trying to appease people connects to Jewish history as well. The Jewish people for thousands of years were refugees moving from place to place, constantly ostracized by society. This gives Jews a moral responsibility to help refugees, because we were in the same place. American Jews can play a big role in helping refugees in Israel. Elliot talked about how Israelis look at American Jews as family. He used an analogy that when you invite family over, you want them to like your house. Israelis want American Jews to like their house, meaning they want them to support and like the country. People don’t want to hear opinions from non-family, because they think “who are you to judge my house?” So Israel is more likely to listen to their family, us American Jews. Ultimately, Elliot taught me that this is a global challenge, so we need to “think globally and act locally.” I appreciate that I now know more about this topic, and I will advocate to help in this crisis.