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Jewish Journal

The wrong Zionist response to refugees

by Larry Derfner

July 12, 2007 | 8:00 pm

It's hard to escape the impression that the Olmert government is being humane to the refugees from Sudan's Darfur region for appearance's sake only. I say this because the government is being amazingly cruel to the refugees from southern Sudan, who are far more numerous than the Darfurians, and who escaped a genocide that took many, many more lives than the one going on in Darfur.

The genocide in Darfur is just better known. The genocide in Darfur has also been taken up as a cause by American Jewish organizations. If Israel expelled the few hundred refugees here from Darfur, it would be a public relations catastrophe. But if Israel expels the 1,000 or so refugees here from southern Sudan, who cares?

Like the Darfurians, the refugees from southern Sudan saw their villages burned and their families slaughtered by Arab terrorosts. Like the Darfurians, they escaped north to Egypt, where they endured years of anti-black racism, brutality and feudal exploitation before crossing Sinai and straggling over the border into Israel.

Some don't make it; they get shot to death by Egyptian soldiers in Sinai or, if they give themselves up, get beaten viciously.

The refugees began arriving here in 2004 and, until now, the government has refrained from sending them back to Egypt because Egypt didn't want them, and because Egypt might deport them back to Sudan, where they faced death at the hands of the government or its genocidal marauders.

But now everything's changed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has agreed to take back the Sudanese refugees and pledged not to deport them back home. So the Israeli government is going to take Mubarak up on his offer.

"For the first few days, the Egyptians will give us a big welcome, and then, when no one's paying attention anymore, the security forces will do whatever they want to us and no one will know. We'll either be killed or put in jail for the rest of our lives," says "George," a young southern Sudanese survivor who spent nearly a year in Israeli prisons before being allowed to work in the Eilat hotels.

There are hundreds of Sudanese refugees working there with him, all technically under house arrest.

"Everybody is really worried," he says.

Egypt treats black Africans like garbage, like slaves, and shoots them when they try to escape. Now Egypt is considered by Israel a fit destination for these black Africans, all of whom have been through a holocaust of their own.

I'm waiting for the Israel lobby in the United States to tell Olmert he can't do this. I'm also waiting for the pro-Israel evangelical Christian organizations to pressure Olmert to change his mind. Of the nearly 1,200 Sudanese refugees here, about 700 are Christians, according to Sigal Rozen, head of Hotline for Migrant Workers, the main Israeli NGO helping these people.

All, or virtually all, of the 700 Christians -- "George" being one of them -- are from southern Sudan, not Darfur, so they're on the list of deportees. Israel, which gets the most extraordinary support from the multiracial world of evangelical Christianity, is now going to send 700 Christians back to a Muslim country that persecuted them because they're black, and that might even send them back to another Muslim country that committed genocide against them because they're black and Christian.

There's no debate that something has to be done to stop the increasing flow of refugees, Sudanese and others, crossing the border into Israel. We obviously can't have an "open door" policy -- there are millions of Sudanese refugees living miserably in Egypt.

But the question is: Can we afford to take in more than the estimated 200-400 who originate in Darfur, and I think the answer is yes. I think we can afford to take in at least a few-thousand Sudanese refugees - southerners and Darfurians, Christians and Muslims. The Israeli hotel operators in Eilat say they're the finest people, hard-working and extremely eager to improve their education, which was stunted by the genocide(s) in their homeland. These people risked their lives to come to this country, they're grateful as can be to Israel for taking them in, and in the Israeli-Arab conflict, they're about as pro-Israel (and anti-Arab) as anyone anywhere.

But I know I'm in a very small minority on this issue. Israelis think this country should only be for Jews, that Israel should worry about Jewish refugees only, except for maybe a few Vietnamese boat people and Darfurians. Otherwise, the overwhelming consensus is that there are too many non-Jews in this country already, the demographic bogeyman is going to get us, and besides, these Sudanese will never be more than the wretched of the Israeli earth, they'll never be accepted, they're better off somewhere else.

This is a distortion of Zionism, this is turning the ideology of a Jewish state into the ideology of a Jewish separatist state. The Law of Return says any Jew can become an Israeli citizen, but Israelis think it also says that no non-Jew can become an Israeli citizen, and the Law of Return says no such thing. If the Sudanese could never hope to be accepted in Israel, never allowed to become more than menial laborers on the furthest margins of society, whose fault is that -- theirs or ours? Instead of "protecting" them from our xenophobia, why don't we just become less xenophobic?

If Israel goes ahead and sends 1,000 southern Sudanese refugees back to live under the Pharaoh, after what they went through in Sudan, then once and for all we Jews ought to get off our high horse about how "the world stood silent" when we needed help.

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