Last Saturday, supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, confronted one another in violent clashes. Yet rather than in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city, this confrontation took place in the streets of south Tel Aviv. In the second half of the 2000s, east African migration to Israel began to accelerate. Since then, in part due to changes in labor policies and law enforcement and in part to a barrier wall erected along the Egypt-Israel border, the number of new east African migrants has fallen precipitously. Nevertheless, although statistics are hard to come by with great precision, there are probably around 40,000 non-Jewish African migrants living in Israel today.
What brings these mainly Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Sudanese immigrants to the cities and towns of Israel? And how does and how should Israel distinguish between those seeking humanitarian asylum and those looking for work opportunities and social benefits?
These questions have become major points of debate in Israel. Some argue that the state must act in the world as a corrective to the Jewish experience of statelessness in history—that since Jews have so often been migrants and refugees and dependent on the help of others, Israel must help others in need when it can. Others argue that Israel—the political answer to the problems of Jewish statelessness—has an overriding moral obligation to welcome and to secure the lives and liberties of Jews—that it has a special obligation to pursue the ingathering of the Jewish diaspora and so to make a distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants.
To discuss these issues, Yonatan Jakubowicz, formerly an advisor to Israel’s Minister of Interior, and a founder of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center, joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.