By: Yuval Nemirovsky
It is not a secret that we live in a world where civil wars, persecution and genocide are a sad part of our reality. Freedom or liberty is a “luxury” that not many nations have. Freedom is not just about NO slavery. It is about opportunities, about health, about economic stability, about education and about a better life.
Freedom is not about doing whatever we want without consequences. Freedom is about a state of mind where humans can live together without harming others. But how do we, the Jewish people, understand this word “Freedom”? And what do we do in order to teach and fight for that?
We, as Jews, learn about our past and our legacy of freedom all the time. There are many holidays where we put emphasis on celebrating our freedom, our journey from Egypt to the promise land for example.
In the Exodus story, which we are commanded to tell our children every year on Pesach, Bnei Israel were redeemed physically from slavery.
The Torah speaks of spiritual redemption too. Israelites were freed from mental as well as from physical slavery. It was as a physically and spiritually free people that prepared itself as a nation to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai
That Torah, that law, those values that we live for, are those stories and lessons that we teach in order to learn from them. This way of seeing life that we received on Mt Sinai, was for us a commitment with God and ourselves. Not just thanking God for the new beginning and freedom, also committing us, the people to a cause.
Our cause, our covenant is to work for a better place. We accepted being the “chosen ones”, not because we have benefits that other nations don’t have. We are the chosen one because we have that RESPONSIBILITY to fight for justice.
Having understood our obligation towards freedom, it is my intention with these words to bring your attention to a big issue in the state of Israel.
I’m referring to the asylum seekers situation.
Here are the facts:
The majority of the estimated 55,000 asylum seekers in Israel are from Eritrea and Sudan, while others come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast. More than 90 percent of this population has arrived since 2007. Fifteen percent are women.
The Israeli government has not yet adopted asylum legislation, and the asylum process in Israel is marked by a lack of clarity in policy and procedure. Israel has one of the lowest refugee recognition rates in the world. Most refugees cross the border on foot from Egypt. From the moment that they enter into Israel, they are detained for an indefinite period of time in overcrowded conditions.
At the beginning of 2012, the government signed an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which would detain asylum seekers for three years without trial, or indefinitely if they came from “enemy” countries like Sudan.
The government has also built mass detention centers such as Saharonim in the Negev desert. Thousands of refugees remain imprisoned in places like this until their status is determined.
Nevertheless, Israel made a step forward: In September 2013 the Supreme Court revoked the Ant-Infiltration law stating it as a violation of human rights. It is no longer legal to keep asylum seekers in prison without a fair trial.
Children of asylum seekers and their integration to Israeli society
Tel Aviv Municipality has taken the responsibility of ensuring the rights of children, including finding places for all children in schools and helping set up Mesila organization to oversee the legal rights of asylum seeker and migrant worker children in the city. Many of the children attend Bialik Rogozin School in South Tel Aviv. Protection remains a challenge for both the NGO’s and the municipality due to unreported cases of neglect and abuse, and the emotional and work related pressures of asylum seeking families. To date, asylum seeker children, even those born in Israel, are ineligible to apply for military service, although the demand to participate is high.
It is not an easy task and it will be hard to integrate asylum seekers into the Jewish society. The asylum seekers have barely integrated due to the social stigma attached to them by the government branding them as ‘infiltrators’.
But it is our task and our duty as Jews and Zionists to help integrate the asylum seekers community into our society. This task is the real test to Zionism. How are the asylum seekers helping us to prove our Zionism ideals you may ask?
The main pillar of Zionism is not just the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. It is the sovereignty of the Jewish people. Zionism and Israel are the opportunity that Jewish people where seeking to create a society. Zionism wants to build a society as a new future, where Jewish values, such as justice, liberty and love are the pillars that guide the population. A society where we can decide it’s path and future.
Zionism wants to build a society that will be an example, a society that everybody wants to be part of. Zionism never said that the return to the homeland is enough.
The problem is that we are misunderstanding the real idea of Zionism. We are making terrible mistakes, for example; Former Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai exclaimed, ‘those who want to work to ensure a Jewish and Zionist state for our children should act. They should make the lives of infiltrators bitter until they leave.”
He and many others are mistaken! This is not the goal of Zionism. Zionism is not a society about pure Jewish blood.
We read on the declaration of the state for example: “THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Jewish state is not about a majority of Jewish People just for the sake to be “pure”. Yes, it encourages the immigration of Jewish people and this is very important but the Jewish state in a pure essence is the society we want to live in, a state based on justice, peace and FREEDOM as we read in the declaration.
The core values of our new society, Judaism at it’s best, is the most important thing in the Jewish State. We are the proof that the world can be different. Israel is our tool to show that. This is the real Jewish character of the state, a state where we work towards a utopian place.
Zionism Judaism doesn’t want a state like any other state. We don’t want a state based on Orthodox law or a state just for Jews. We want a place we can be free.
Even more important than the land, is the society that we want to build. This “new” idea is what Herzl fought for, this new society, a revolution to the world, a place where good things should happen is what Herzl fought for.
The most Jewish and Zionist thing to do is to help asylum seekers and to give them the shelter they are looking for. It is our test as a sovereign nation. In order to pass this test, it is our obligation as Jews to help the state we love to take the right actions.
Herzl dreamed about a place for Jews as a shelter. He dreamed about a place where Jews, as an example of human beings, are not discriminated for being infiltrators. He dreamed about a place where these things don’t happen to anyone.
Let’s build together the society we want to live in! This is our way to be Zionists.
Shalom and freedom to us all!