In recent years there’s been increasing awareness of Israel’s frequently inexplicable practice of the Law of Return, and the ways in which the Ultra-Orthodox have co-opted this to fan the flames of the “who is a Jew?” argument. Despite the strict methods they have for enforcing this policy, many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, for example, have entered the country and become legal citizens despite the fact that they do not actually identify as Jewish at all, and came to escape economic hardships because they could take advantage of the fact that their mother’s mother had been a Jew. And the end results have been mixed for both the immigrants and the country, but the Israeli Are-You-A-Jew squad did not subject them to the same tests as those who have converted, indicating that their priority was the humanitarian mission of bringing persecuted people, who may have been descended from Jews, to a place where they could actually feed their families on a regular basis.

And then today I read an article about illegal refugees from Darfur entering Israel through Egypt. Israel put them on a bus and sent them back.

Given the pride with which many Israel supporters state that the country was founded by Holocaust survivors, I think it unconscionable that the government can’t stretch their imaginations a bit and think of this country as a refuge for survivors of all genocides. After all, Jerusalem has it’s Armenian Quarter, and where did those Armenians come from? In the 60 years since the establishment of the state of Israel, immigrants with widely diverging Jewish backgrounds have come from all over the world, and frankly, most of them follow the Israeli dream to live free and secular in a society which allows them to work and eat and live in relative peace.

So why not these immigrants, who are so desperately in need of peace?

Israeli law denies asylum to anyone from an enemy state, AP reports. Sudan’s Muslim government is hostile to Israel and has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Eytan Schwartz, an advocate for Darfur refugees in Israel, told AP that about 400 have entered Israel in recent years. Baker said they would be allowed to live in Israel, and that the ban applied to new arrivals. Dozens of Israeli lawmakers recently signed a petition urging the government not to deport Sudanese refugees. Arab militias supported by Sudan’s government have committed numerous human rights atrocities, U.N. officials say, including the slaughter and gang rape of civilians, destruction of water sources, looting and burning of buildings and crops.

Meantime, lest anyone think that the refugees are just another pack of illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the Western World and laugh behind our backs… (you know, just in case Ann Coulter is reading this.)

Several months ago,

Israel took refugees from what the United States brands genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur on a tour Monday of the Jerusalem memorial to the six million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust. […] Most remain in custody, having been detained as citizens of an enemy state as Israel has no relations with Sudan. A little over 100 have been released to work on agricultural collectives and cooperatives. Ahmed, 25, who left his native village in Darfur two and a half years ago, was detained for 15 months before being released to work at the Yotvata kibbutz in southern Israel. “It’s worse than anything we could have imagined,” said Ahmed. “Terrible,” he muttered over and over, before the party stumbled dazed out of the tour.

Wait – so we can take the refugees who already exist in Israel to Yad Vashem, point out the common experience of suffering at the hands of those who want/wanted to exterminate us, and then five months later decide that it’s actually fine if the brothers and cousins of the refugees who arrived in Israel later have to keep suffering?

Given the huge response from American Jews to the genocide in Darfur, one might think that the Israeli government would think it at least politic to stay in the good graces of the American public by continuing to help Sudanese refugees. No matter how hypocritical they are about documenting the relative suffering of entire populations, no matter how arbitrary their decisions about immigrants who may or may not be “authentically” Jewish according to the chief rabbis, their track record of acting in their own self-interest might this time be the necessary catalyst. Tell your senators & representatives to put the pressure on, because that’s probably the only way the refugees will find a safe space.