Israel and illegal African migrants -- NY Times piles on the guilt, evokes Nazi German

Israel belatedly has begun to address ways of stemming a flood of illegal African infiltrators - some fleeing from persecution but many lured by higher living standards in the Jewish state.  In all, an estimated 60,000 illegal refugees have managed to sneak into Israel, imposing considerable social and economic burdens.  The flood of new arrivals remains unabated, prompting Israeli leaders to warn of a growing threat to the Jewish character of the state.

What to do?  The vast majority of illegals are from Sudan and Eritrea, where they face real threats of persecution if they were repatriated.  So they're staying put. Under international law, Israel can't send them back. But others - a small fraction of the total - are from countries where repatriation poses no danger - about 4,500 out of the 60,000.  They didn't flee from persecution; they simply were looking for a better life.  They're not political or ethnic refugees; they're economic refugees.

Accordingly, on June 17, Israel launched a modest repatriation effort, returning 120 infiltrators from South Sudan, with which it has diplomatic ties.  Adults received $1,300 each to help them resettle.  Children were given $650 each. A delegation from South Sudan was on hand to work with Israel in handling the infiltrators' return.  South Sudan's interior minister, Alison Manani Magaya, said they would be provided with the same assistance granted to South Sudanese returning from Sudan (Following a protracted civili war, the south split away and became a separate independent nation).  "They can come and stay with their relatives," the minister said.  They were in Israel because of the civil war.  The war is over and they should come back home."

As for longer-term anti-infiltration measures, Israel is looking for various ways to stem the infiltration tide, including temporary detention centers and construction of a barrier along its border with Egyptian-ruled Sinai. Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly pledged that Israel would seek the most humane ways possible to handle the problem.

The New York Times, however, in reporting these developments, couldn't resist taking a sharp swipe at Israel in a dispatch by Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner, "Crackdown On Migrants Tugs at Soul of Israelis - Taking Steps to Deport Thousands of Africans," page A4, June 18).

In a highly emotional piece that draws a direct parallel with Nazi Germany's treatment of Jews, Kekrshner writes:  "The government clampdown is ripping at Israel's soul.  For some, the connotations of roundups and the prospect of mass detentions cut close to the bone.  'I feel I am in a movie in Germany, circa 1933 or 1938,' said Orly Feldheim, 46, a daughter of Holocaust survivors."

This is a foul, abject comparison.  As a refugee myself, I can contribute some personal experience in denouncing Kershner's piece.  My family left the Austrian capital of Vienna in December, 1938, after it became amply clear that our very lives were in imminent danger.  In Germany and then Austria and then throughout Europe, 6 million Jews were rounded up and slaughtered.  A few lucky refugees, our family included, managed to stay hidden, in our case in Belgium, for the rest of the German occupation.

No such fate  threatens African refugees in Israel.  African infiltrators repatriated to places like South Sudan are not about to end up in gas chambers.  Others who face serious harm in their native countries are not sent back.  Jewish tradition mandates special solicitude in dealing with strangers - and Israel passes that test.  In handling illegals, it can point to a real parallel - not a phony one a la Kershner - with U.S. measures to keep out unlawful infiltrators.   Like the U.S., Israel is building a barrier to maintain the integrity of its borders.  And the Times is not about to draw parallels with Nazi Germany when it comes to U.S. agents patrolling the border with Mexico or returning infiltrators caught sneaking into the U.S. side.

So why the double standard?  Why is Israel fair game with a spread of three quarters of the first page of the international news section, including three photos, in carrying out border-security measures that are, if anything, more humane than those of any other country?

As an anti-Zionist sheet, the Times would like nothing better than Israel's adoption of a complete open-border policy that would spell the end of the Zionist dream once and for all.  The Times is there to do its bit.


Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

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