Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Infiltrators

I spent the day in Tel Aviv, as I get ready for tomorrow’s General Assembly (GA) of the Jewish Federations of North America. 

On my way to lunch with a friend, I walked through Levinsky Park, the “Eritrean/Sudanese” area of Tel Aviv. Most of the thousands of people congregating are immigrants – African refugees who have crossed the border. It’s often called “the State of Levinsky” because of the internal rules and laws the immigrants have set for themselves.

I wanted to see this place for myself. There have been some prominent comments by Israeli politicians that these “infiltrators” are an enormous strain on Israel’s welfare system, that they carry disease, they’re rapists, a plague, a cancer. Levinsky is, ironically, in the heart of the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood – an Oasis of Serenity. But it’s never been much of a serene place – the Central Bus Station turned the area into an oasis of prostitution, crime and vandalism long before African immigrants came. Poor social and urban planning can do that. And now many of the migrants sleep on the floor, in the park. 
Most aren’t allowed to work or get official residency rights, so they’re trapped in a spiral of despair and poverty.

My colleagues in JDC’s The Centerfor International Migration and Integration (CIMI) have spent some time looking at this issue. Here’s the bottom line: if we don’t recognize that there’s a problem here … we’re probably never going to resolve this.  
If we don’t let them work, the situation’s going to get worse.  
And if they’re here, we have obligations towards them. We should be helping Israel meet this challenge and enhance protection for asylum seekers.

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