Lawrence Rifkin’s generally balanced story of Israel’s refugee crisis, “Illegals of our own,” Feb. 8, is marred by the dehumanizing label “illegals” for recent migrants to Israel. As Eli Wiesel wrote, “You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’.” In the US, demonizing undocumented migrants as “illegals” is the province of anti-immigrant extremists and right-wing media. Mainstream outlets including the New York Times and the Associated Press have all chosen to avoid the term.
The ugly term does fit the ugliness of Israeli government efforts to expel thousands of African migrants who arrived there fleeing violence, famine and religious discrimination. This is monstrous in a country founded as a homeland for refugees from a Nazi state that declared Jews “illegal” and deserving of elimination.
Such policies are only another sign, sadly, of growing racism and religious division in Israel. A 2016 Pew Foundation survey showed almost half of Jewish Israelis want to expel Israeli Arab citizens.
US critics of “illegal” immigrants like to say “We are a nation of laws,” as if laws and nations are immutable. But laws are created by men and women and are an expression of a nation’s values and moral vision. At a time when a majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for the undocumented, American Jews should also condemn cruel and racist Israeli policies that would send African refugees back to face oppression and death in modern day “Egypts.”
Jeff Gross, Salem