(JTA) – More than 850 rabbis and other Jewish clergy in the United States and Canada have signed a letter calling on Israel to reverse its plan to deport African migrants.
The letter, initiated by Jewish groups New Israel Fund, HIAS, T’ruah and Right Now, says that: “As a country founded by refugees, and whose early leaders helped to craft the 1951 International Convention on the Status of Refugees, Israel must not deport those seeking asylum within its borders. We Jews know far too well what happens when the world closes its doors to those forced to flee their homes.”
The signatories to the letter include rabbis and cantors from all Jewish movements. Among the Ottawa signatories are Rabbi Robert Morais and Rabbi (emeritus) Steven Garten of Temple Israel, Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton of Or Haneshamah, and Rabbi Deborah Zuker of Kehillat Beth Israel.
The letter asserts that the Africans in Israel are “escaping torture, enslavement, and war,” and that those who have previously been deported Africa “have already suffered rape, robbery, torture, and human trafficking.”
It also calls on Israel to review requests for asylum “in an effective, fair, transparent, and impartial manner.”
“Our own experience of slavery and liberation, and our own experience as refugees, compel us to act with mercy and justice toward those seeking refuge among us. Please affirm these Jewish values, as well as Israel’s international commitments, by stopping the deportations,” the letter concludes.
The letter comes after Israel’s Cabinet earlier this month approved a plan and the budget to deport thousands of migrants from Sudan and Eritrea.
Prior to that, the Population and Immigration Authority notified migrants from Sudan and Eritrea that as of Jan. 1, they must return to their own countries or to a third nation – reportedly either Rwanda or Uganda – or be sent to Holot Prison until they are deported. According to the government plan, migrants who choose to leave by March 31 will receive a payment of $3,500 as well as free airfare and other incentives, according to reports.
A group of Israeli rabbis led in part by author and activist Rabbi Susan Silverman have called on all Israelis to hide African asylum seekers in their homes to prevent their deportation. Calling the effort Miklat Israel – Miklat means sanctuary in Hebrew — and informally the Anne Frank Home Sanctuary movement, Silverman has invoked the teenage Holocaust diarist who with her family and others was hidden from the Nazis in an annex in an office building in Amsterdam.
Israeli doctors, pilots and Holocaust survivors also have come out against the deportations.
U.S. Jewish groups previously also have lobbied Israel to halt plans to deport the migrants. A letter signed by 25 Jewish groups was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November.