The Relevance of Passover: Seeking Asylum in Israel
This post is part of our Passover series, in which we think about the application of our age-old Passover story and traditions to the crucial issues we face today. For ways to infuse your seder with social justice, see our holiday guide.
When we gather around the table for seder, we will retell the story of the exodus from Egypt – the journey from slavery to freedom, completed by our Jewish ancestors. Each year, we seek to relate this central story to our modern struggles. This year, the struggle of asylum seekers fleeing to Israel begs comparison.
According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Israel is home to more than 60,000 asylum seekers. Most of the asylum seekers are from Eritrea and South Sudan, and like those Jews led by Moses, the majority entered Israel from Egypt. Although those immigrants arriving at the Israeli border are seeking their own land of milk and honey, their arrival is less celebrated than when the Jews arrived over 3,000 years ago.
Prime Minister Netanyahu who expressed, “60,000 infiltrators [asylum seekers] are liable to become 600,000 and lead to the eradication of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Miri Regev, a Likud Knesset Member, even referred to these asylum seekers as a “cancer.” While the Prime Minister’s concerns are widespread, the dehumanizing language endorsed by high-level officials is reflective of the popular opinion around the issue. Demonstrations have turned violent, and Israel is faced with a challenge of balancing demographic concerns with international human rights.
In reaction to 15,000 asylum seekers coming to Israel each year (up from a few thousand a few years ago), Israel erected a fence to curb those numbers. Yet, even if the number of incoming refugees shrinks, Israel still has 60,000 asylum seekers already in the country. This prompted Israel to plan the construction of the world’s largest detention center of it’s kind, with a capacity to hold 8,000 people. Many fear that, with such a massive detention center, immigrants will not be offered the chance to get asylum, and will also not be free to leave and to seek asylum from other nations. Because most asylum seekers have not had their cases heard, those who are in Israel and not in detention centers have no way of providing for themselves; with no residency, they cannot get work permits.
As we reflect on the Passover story of our own exodus, we should think about the needs of these refugees, and how the Israeli public and government, in conjunction with the international community, can work toward a peaceful resolution of these issues, reflecting its values and role as heirs to a prophetic tradition.
Image courtesy of +972