Israel is home to 45,000 asylum seekers who arrived after fleeing their homes in Africa to escape to war, dictatorship and genocide. Most of these refugees are from Eritrea and Sudan, both countries notorious for vast human rights abuses. To come to Israel, they traveled, many on foot, through the desolate Sinai desert, at the mercy of the elements and of human traffickers — kidnapping, rape and murder occurred with frightening regularity. These people sought refuge in Israel, the Jewish state, because it is one of the few stable democracies in the region, despite the fact that coming to Israel can itself be considered a crime  
[pullquote] Although Israel has a very clear policy for absorbing Jewish refugees, it has struggled to handle the waves of arriving African asylum seekers in a way that is consistent with humanitarian as well as Jewish values.
[/pullquote]Although Israel has a very clear policy for absorbing Jewish refugees, it has struggled to handle the waves of arriving African asylum seekers in a way that is consistent with humanitarian as well as Jewish values. While 85% of such asylum seekers would be eligible for refugee status in the US, and given the residency and work permissions this status affords, the Israeli government has refused to examine their applications. Unable to work legally and often kept in poverty, African asylum seekers have become frequent scapegoats for unsubstantiated charges of crime, unemployment, and a demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish majority.
Since its founding, Israel has dealt ambivalently with the prospect of non-Jewish immigrants and foreign residents. In recent years, as strife and genocide displaced hundreds of thousands in Africa, Israel’s public debate has become increasingly hostile to what the Israeli government and much of the media call “infiltrators.” Legislative initiatives to round up, jail, and even deport asylum seekers have been repeatedly struck down by the High Court as anti-democratic. Meanwhile, numerous Israeli NGOs advocate in the courts, legislature, and media for asylum seekers’ rights. Despites these efforts, in February 2016 the Knesset passed the 6th amendment to the “anti-infiltration law” which allows for the detention of African Asylum Seekers at Holot Detention Center for up to 12 months. This goes directly against the UN Refugee Convention (of which Israel was a signing member in 1951), which forbids the incarceration of refugees and asylum seekers without due process.
 
Although long-known, the harsh conditions faced by refugees in Israeli detention centers have recently gained media attention. A report published by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants highlights serious concerns of overcrowding, inadequate food as well as a lack of translators, health care and access to legal representation. The continued incarceration and demonization of asylum seekers by the Israeli government has fostered racism and xenophobia, ultimately leading to numerous attacks on businesses and even people. In October 2015, a vigilante mob brutally and publicly killed an Eritrean Asylum Seeker in the Be’er Sheba bus station. This incitement, and ongoing human rights concerns, are contrary to  the Jewish values and Jewish experience that Israel intends to represent.
Right Now, an advocate group for Asylum Seekers in Israel, is pleased to co-host with Ameinu, a screening of the film African Exodus in Los Angeles in April. The film, by Brad Rothschild, excellently provides historical and contemporary context for this growing issue, and discusses the current situation in Israel and its “looming humanitarian crisis.”
The screening will be held on April 14, 2016 at 7pm, at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas West Hollywood. Tickets are $12, and will include a Q&A following the film with Maya Paley (Founder of Right Now), Morgan Buras Finlay (Right Now Executive Team) and more. You  can view the trailer, read the synopsis of the film, and purchase tickets online here. You can also just show up and buy tickets at the door.
For those of you not in Los Angeles, or who cannot attend the screening, this film is also available for purchase or rental. We hope you’ll spread the word about this screening and film to help raise awareness about the asylum seekers in Israel to the Jewish community.