Violence Against African Refugees in Tel Aviv

Statement by the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis in Response
to the Violence against African Refugees in South Tel Aviv - June 2012

The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis raises its voice in response to the May 23rd violence carried out by Jews against African refugees in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Hatikvah. Beyond blame, we accept and seek to act on the responsibility we have as Jews for one another, kol Yisrael arevin zeh ba’zeh. In the gathering of poor Israelis against largely Sudanese and Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers and against the lack of a coherent government refugee policy, we are distressed with the classic pitting of the poor and oppressed against each other. We are sickened by the presence of members of the K’nesset who addressed the crowd as it became a mob, fanning flames of racist fear and hatred; demanding that the “infiltrators” be expelled, calling the Sudanese “a cancer in our body,” declaring that “the time for talk is over.” We know only too well the short leap from the verbal violence of demagogues to physical violence. Israel Army Radio referred to the violence as a pogrom.

From our enslavement in Egypt and onward, we are to know and remember what it is to be a despised stranger. Reminding us of our own experience as oppressed strangers thirty-six times, the Torah warns, you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt/key gerim heh’yitem b’eretz mitz’rayim (Exodus 23:9). On that verse, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes from 19th century Germany of what should be “the guarantee of unabridged justice and considerate treatment for all foreigners in the Jewish state. The treatment accorded by a state to the aliens living within its jurisdiction is the most accurate indication of the extent to which justice and humanity prevail in that state.”

In response to this incident and the growing violence of rhetoric and deed among our people, as rabbis we call for cheshbon ha’nefesh, an accounting of the soul, and appropriate t’shuvah/repentant turning from violence. We call for the censure of leaders who fan the flames of racism and hatred among us. As teachers of Torah, we commit ourselves and call on Jewish leaders everywhere to help insure that the eyes and hearts of the young are opened to see the image of God in every human being.

The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis calls on the government of Israel to protect all who are weak and vulnerable, to create a refugee policy that is rooted in compassion, and to censure those of its representatives who besmirch the moral character of the Jewish state and of the Jewish people. We call on our communities to examine our own attitudes and to cry out against such violence, and to expect the same of Jewish communal organizations and leaders. We stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu who said that “there is no room for the actions and expressions witnessed [in Tel Aviv].” We stand with President Peres in insisting that “hating foreigners is against the foundations of Judaism.” We express solidarity with Israelis who march in solidarity with the victims, bearing signs that read, “We are all refugees.”