“You shall not oppress the stranger [immigrant] because you know the soul of the stranger for you yourselves were immigrants in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9) [translation, R.S.]
This verse recalls the migration of Jacob’s sons to Egypt during an ancient Israelite famine. It invokes the history of oppression that Jews suffered there as economic migrants who ultimately escaped slavery at the hands of Pharaoh during the miraculous exodus orchestrated by Moses during the holiday we are about the celebrate, Passover.
The Bible calls on Jews to treat immigrants (the term ger in Hebrew, which is often translated as “stranger”) with respect no less than eight different times in at least four different books. In addition, there is the deeply moving story of the Book of Ruth, whose entire plot revolves around an Israelite economic migrant, Naomi, who travels with her family to Moab to escape famine at home (not unlike current Israeli immigrants from Sudan, Ethiopia and Asia). While in Moab, Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women, but when the sons and her husband die, she decides to return to Israel and urges Ruth, her daughter-in-law, to return to her Moabite family. Ruth refuses with one of the most gracious, moving speeches to grace the entire Tanach:
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
In more recent history, we have the accounts of righteous Gentiles who gave Jews refuge during the Holocaust at great risk to themselves and their families. Conversely, we have a darker history of those like the Roosevelt administration which turned Jews away from ports of refuge, as the St. Louis was shunned when it unsuccessfully attempted to deposit 900 Jewish refugees in the New World
This is not a general subject that is peripheral, but rather is at the heart of Judaism. Without the tender mercy of strangers, we might have long ago ceased to exist as a people. Therefore, we see ourselves as a generous people, one attuned to suffering and therefore bound to treat the stranger in our midst with kindness and respect.
So how else should a Jew react when they read disgusting incitement (for the full effect in the original Hebrew, read here) from none other than a member of the Israeli Knesset, Yaakov “Ketzeleh” Katz, who is also a prominent extremist settler leader. Here Katz (whose nickname oddly invokes the Yiddish diminutive for “kitty-cat”) inveighs against the thousands of economic migrants pouring into Israel’s economy from dire African places like Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. One linguistic note: the term “infiltrator” used here has a charged connotation in modern Hebrew, as it historically referred to Palestinian fighters who “infiltrated” Israel to engage in terror attacks:
The State of Israel is facing a hard problem: Between 1,000 and 2,000 persons infiltrate each month through the porous southern border…In an increasing arithmetic progression we will reach, in six or seven years, 75,000 or 100,000 African infiltrators, most of whom will live in Tel Aviv…
With a century of hard labor, Am Yisrael has built here a Jewish state. In ten years, these infiltrators could make it all go to waste. We are losing the state to insanity.
…Our committee has visited schools and kindergartens in Arad and we couldn’t believe our eyes: The city is slowly being taken over. The schools in Arad and Eilat are filling up with Eritrean and Sudanese children. Already, close to a tenth of the city’s inhabitants are Sudanese or Eritrean, Muslims and Christians.
We got used to thinking that we are defeating our enemies in battles and here they have surprised us from the rear. The rulers of Sudan and Eritrea, in collusion with the Egyptians are conquering Israel.
Note in this passage, echoes of the Nativist rants of yesteryear against the oncoming hordes and unwashed masses bearing hard down on our shores. Note the language akin to that used to describe a plague of locusts or other form of vermin. The racism is mind-boggling. Also note that Katz, comfortably ensconced in his West Bank settlement home, is attempting to gin up hysterical fear among the wealthy denizens of Tel Aviv’s northern suburbs, which are akin to places like Evanston, Scarsdale, Beverly Hills and Napa Valley in the U.S.
…The infiltrators are penetrating Hatikva neighborhood, are flooding south Tel Aviv and every day they advance a few tens of meters towards Dizengoff on their way to Akirov and Ramat Aviv…As I see it, there is no choice but for the prime minister to declare martial law for everything regarding infiltrators.
In the following passage, Katz suggests establishing an entire city for migrants that would be a cross between a concentration camp and Hooverville:
…I have suggested…to start [constructing] a city that will be a decent distance from the border, where only there the infiltrators will be allowed to live. They will be employed in government projects for building the city itself [and] building the border fence [to prevent further immigration].
It may be that this kind of labor would take it’s toll on the infiltrators in a way that they will advise their relatives not to follow in their footsteps to Israel. They may even wish to pay again $2,500 per head to the corrupt guides who brought them here, this time in order to return them to their home.
For some time no one is surprised how many of Tel Aviv’s residents are willing to sell Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. But it is unbelievable for me to behold how it does not bother them that their own city is becoming Eritrean and Sudanese. A thought sneaks to my mind that this secular, liberal and elitist community has simply lost all will to live…Is this what they hoped for when they built their homes in Tel Aviv? That it will become an African city? What kind of person wants to sell himself and his home? [translation: Eitan Issacson]
The Jewish people both within and outside Israel should know that when they continue supporting the Occupation, they are supporting racism like this. Do we want to be judged and measured as a people by the hate of such hooligans? Further, I challenge the settlers who define Judaism and Jewish values for us as they do here in the comment threads. Theirs is not Judaism. It is a perversion of Judaism. Let’s call it Judea-ism, an idolatry based on worship of land over the spiritual values which our Biblical Prophets represented. We do not need a Third Temple in order to be good Jews. We do not need armed outposts in Hebron to maintain our covenant with God. Let us take back our religion from such people. They do not represent us, nor should they represent Israel.
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