Standing among 20,000 Israelis at the "Stop the Deportation" rally in Tel Aviv recently, I felt my heart fill with pride. Against a rising tide of xenophobia worldwide, Israelis were bucking the hateful trends, demanding that our government end its cruel and un-Jewish policy of jailor-deportation for African asylum seekers.
Since two rabbinic colleagues and I launched Miklat Israel, the Home Sanctuary movement, we have been overwhelmed by thousands of families who have signed up to hide in their households, if necessary, asylum seekers who otherwise face jail or deportation. These volunteers include Holocaust survivors and children and grandchildren of survivors who call on Israel to fulfill its international obligation to grant asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The young Jewish state championed this convention so that no one would have to live through anything akin to what Jews suffered.
Much as then-candidate Donald Trump insisted that Mexicans were rapists, Israeli politicians have been spreading the basest characterizations of asylum seekers, calling them "infiltrators" and worse. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is threatening the first deportation wave on Pesach, seems to have no sense of irony about sending people to be oppressed, trafficked and enslaved at that season. Nor did he or former Shas leader Eli Yishai seem to notice that they had, on multiple occasions, quoted our biblical anti-heroes.
Like Pharaoh, Netanyahu sought to stoke public fears of a growing "other" among us. Like Haman urging the king of Persia to massacre the Jews, Yishai said they are a separate population in our land who do not follow the law. (According to police, African asylum seekers account for 70 percent of the population of the South Tel Aviv neighborhood Neve Shaanan but are responsible for only 40 percent of the crime, countering reports that they are responsible for a rise in criminal activity.)
It's heartbreaking that some Israelis and Jews worldwide are falling for the kind of Big Lie tactics and fears that sent the St. Louis back to Europe in 1939. As an empowered state, are we going to follow these ancient and not-so-ancient patterns, repeating Big Lies to fuel our own biases and fear?
Here are a few Big Lies being told about this population of asylum seekers.
Big Lie #1: They are economic refugees, not people fleeing persecution. Anyone who has spent time with refugees from Sudan and Eritrea would need a hardened heart not to...