Israel has recently announced plans to expel a number of migrants who entered the country without permission—most of them from Sudan or Eritrea via the Sinai between 2006 and 2012. Predictably the decision has raised an outcry, including from American Jewish groups. Against these critics, Emmanuel Navon explains that the deportees are not refugees, and that the deportations are in line with Western practice in general:
Like other signatories of the UN’s 1951 Refugees Convention, Israel is bound to grant refugee status to people who flee “genocide, war, persecution, and slavery to dictatorial regimes.” It did so in 1977 when it accepted Vietnamese “boat people” rejected by other countries. It has been doing so for the small percentage of African migrants who are actual asylum seekers. . . . Israel does, [for instance], consider the Sudanese from Darfur a special case, . . . which is why the Israeli government has granted temporary-resident status so far to 500 Darfur refugees, and has promised to speed up the refugee-status determination process for other Darfur refugees.
Israel could theoretically keep illegal work migrants for altruistic reasons (as advocated mainly by American Jewish groups), but the Israeli government, like any responsible and answerable government, must also take into account the well-being of its own citizens. The residents of south Tel Aviv, [where most of the immigrants settle], are the victims of rising crime rates and of deteriorating living conditions. . . . Moreover, as opposed to large and aging countries such as Germany and Japan, Israel is a small and densely populated country with high birthrates, and therefore it has neither the need nor the capacity to legalize illegal migration. . . . Israel is only expelling illegal immigrants who are single, and it has made clear that it will not expel families.
Israel is far from being the only democracy that sends back illegal immigrants. The United States expels 400,000 illegal immigrants every year. Germany has been sending back illegal immigrants to Afghanistan, and Italy to Sudan. In 2017, Germany expelled 80,000 illegal immigrants. . . .
Israel is a safe haven to all Jews, as well as to non-Jewish asylum seekers who meet the criteria of the Refugee Convention—which most illegal immigrants don’t. Israel’s policy is consistent with international law and with the practice of other democracies, and it should not be judged by higher standards.