BINA Statement and Action Plan for African Asylum Seekers in Israel

February 11, 2018

BINA’s mission is to strengthen the Jewish-democratic character of Israel through limud (study), ma’ase (action) and kehilah (community), inspired by Jewish culture and values of tikkun olam (repairing the world). We are guided by Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which states that the State of Israel “will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel”; that the State of Israel “will be open to Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles” and at the same time “will foster the development of the country for all of its inhabitants”. For BINA the Jewish-democratic State of Israel must embrace the Jewish people AND Jewish values, including those that call upon us to welcome the stranger as well as take care of our own. These principles guide us in all the work that we do, from south Tel Aviv to across Israel and beyond.

 

Background: 

  • BINA has been directly engaged in the issue of African asylum seekers in Israel since the first asylum seekers began to arrive over ten years ago. BINA’s work in south Tel Aviv began even earlier, in 2001, with the launch of the BINA Bashchuna (“BINA in the Neighborhood”) Jewish community organizing initiative, working to support and empower the disadvantaged Jewish-Israeli communities of south Tel Aviv, and with the establishment of the first Secular Yeshiva in south Tel Aviv in 2006. In 2009, BINA published the first history book of the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Shapira, entitled Not in Jaffa, Not in Tel Aviv.

  • Over the past decade, BINA has worked closely with the diverse residents and communities of south Tel Aviv, including: veteran Jewish-Israeli residents, Jewish-Israeli olim, migrant/foreign workers asylum seekers, and others. Our staff and volunteers have worked with local schools, community centers, senior centers, soup kitchens, new immigrant centers, childcare centers, refugee shelters, municipal social service departments, and other local institutions nearly every day for over ten years.

  • Our understanding of the situation comes from years of hands-on experience, ongoing pursuit of knowledge, and deep reflection on Jewish and other sources. For years, BINA has been recognized as a trusted source of knowledge and wisdom on the asylum seeker issue and on the complexities of south Tel Aviv by Israelis and others from across political spectra. This is exemplified by the thousands of Israelis and international visitors from diverse backgrounds who choose to visit south Tel Aviv with BINA each year, meeting local Jewish-Israeli residents and asylum seekers, and exploring the neighborhood and relevant Jewish questions up close.  

Key Understandings:

  • The challenges of south Tel Aviv are diverse and complex and began long before the arrival of the African asylum seekers.

  • From our own experience and personal relationships with members of the asylum seeker community, many if not all of the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have fled persecution and should therefore be legally and morally deserving of protection as refugees. We also know that over 80% of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in other western countries are accepted as refugees; therefore, the fact that Israel has recognized fewer than 1% of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applicants as refugees casts serious doubts over the validity of Israel’s asylum process as it currently stands.

  • Based on our own experience and personal relationships with Jewish-Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv, we know that their attitudes toward the asylum seekers are mixed and diverse. We reject the false conception propagated by certain politicians and media sources that there is a zero-sum game of interests between the needs of the Jewish-Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv and those of the asylum seekers. The granting of protection to asylum seekers and refugees need not come at the expense of the Jewish-Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv, nor would “deportation” solve the challenges of south Tel Aviv.

  • Indeed, the Jewish tradition teaches us that we must take care of the needs of our fellow Jews  AND at the same time that we have a responsibility to the stranger that dwells among us. We believe our Jewish responsibility is not one of “either-or” but one of “both-and”.

Recommendations:

  • Israel should assess the asylum applications of all asylum seekers already in Israel in a transparent, objective, just and timely fashion, in line with international law and standards, and grant the requisite temporary protection and rights to those so entitled. Meanwhile, Israel should allow asylum seekers awaiting assessment to live and work in dignity.

  • The State of Israel should work to distribute the asylum seeker population throughout Israel, striving to incorporate asylum seekers into areas of the economy in need of workers, rather than bringing new foreign workers into the country.

  • The State of Israel should invest in the rehabilitation of the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, investing in physical and social infrastructures, law enforcement and accountability, education, etc., while ensuring that veteran residents of the neighborhood are able to benefit from such improvements without being forced out of their neighborhoods due to rising costs of living.

  • The Government of Israel and its officials should cease and desist from inciting hatred against asylum seekers and from making false generalizations and assumptions regarding the attitudes, needs and interests of the Jewish-Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv. Representatives of the Government of Israel should desist from using the justification of Israel’s existence as a “Jewish State” to promote policies that contradict Jewish values.

  • We invite the People of Israel to join us in an honest, open and shared national study and exploration of what it means to be a “Jewish State” and what values we want our state and society to reflect as Israel moves into its 70th year and beyond.

  • We encourage Jews in the Diaspora to join and support the citizens of Israel in exploring these questions and in sharing in the challenges and the opportunities of the global refugee crisis.

 

BINA’s Action Plan:

  • Increase our ongoing work of supporting basic needs and providing socio-emotional and educational support to asylum seekers, Jewish-Israelis, and ALL of the diverse residents of south Tel Aviv through community organizing and volunteerism.

  • Increase our efforts to educate for social change, by creating platforms for meaningful human encounters and relationships between Israelis and asylum seekers, such as:

    • Pairing Program between asylum seekers and Jewish-Israelis – to provide support, encouragement and assistance for individuals and families.

    • Offer free or discounted tours of south Tel Aviv for Israelis of diverse backgrounds to learn about the issue and meet members of the local community first hand.

  • Work with the Kibbutz Movement (BINA’s institutional partner) on providing employment and accommodation to groups of asylum seekers, to disperse and absorb the asylum seeker population in a more sustainable manner throughout Israel.

  • Mobilize and empower the BINA community to take civic action both in Israel and abroad.

  • Plan additional action steps as the situation evolves.

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