USA Today Casts Out Context in Report on Israel’s African Refugees

A USA Today dispatch on African refugees living in Israel omitted key context and facts (“Israel to African refugees: You’re not welcome here,” Nov. 2, 2017). The article by correspondent Shira Rubin castigated the Jewish state while misleading readers.

USA Today’s report purports to detail the plight of asylum seekers from East Africa who are given refuge in Israel. The paper asserted: “Israel’s treatment of African refugees has come under attack from local human rights groups, who say a country founded by refugees persecuted during World War II should be more understanding of the asylum workers’ plight.”

Yet, Israel’s founding was not the result of World War II or the Holocaust, as CAMERA has detailed extensively. Nor is this the only distorted aspect in Today’s article.

Noting that many of the asylum seekers are “overwhelmingly Muslims and Christians from Eritrea and Sudan”—and that African refugees who are Jewish are granted automatic asylum, as with any Jewish person from anywhere in the world—Today initially claimed:

“Since they are not Jewish, they are not citizens and are denied access to free health care. Their children, many of whom were born in Israel, are not granted Israeli passports and must attend separate schools [emphasis added].”

However, as USA Today acknowledged in a Nov. 6, 2017 correction: Children of African students are not forced to attend separate schools. Claiming that they do is not only incorrect, but it feeds into the false narrative of Israel—the only democracy in the Middle East—as an “apartheid state.” Further, many countries do not give access to free health care—either for citizens or for illegal immigrants seeking asylum. Israel is hardly an exception.

Israel’s policies towards non-citizens seeking asylum are not only commonplace among many other nations, they are also in keeping with both law and agreements between nation-states. And USA Today even detailed it, if in passing.

The article mentioned that in September 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement with “Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the U.N…to deport African [illegal] migrants from Israel to Rwanda.” In other words, a bi-national agreement signed under the auspices of the United Nations specifies that Israel should send illegal migrants not granted asylum to Rwanda. It should be noted—but isn’t—that this step is more than many other countries do.

In fact, given its size and population, Israel’s immigration policies are uniquely generous. A nation of slightly more than 8 million, with only 8,019 square miles—roughly the size of New Jersey—Israeli immigration policies offer asylum to any Jewish person regardless of where they’re coming from. No other nation does this—and many of Israel’s neighbors—despite often being greater in size—have a far less welcoming immigration policy.

To expect a country of Israel’s size to be able to indefinitely keep everyone who comes there illegally is a standard that is both unrealistic and which no other comparably sized country is held to—certainly not by the media.

Yet, Today’s report failed to inform readers of either Israel’s size, population or offer comparisons regarding its immigration policies and those of other countries in the region.

This is not the first time that Western press outlets have provided distorted coverage of Israel’s immigration policies, as CAMERA has detailed (see “On Refugees and Racism, a Double Standard Against Israel,” July 3, 2012). At the time of that writing, there were an estimated 45,000-60,000 people living in Israel illegally, some of whom would be considered refugees and others migrants, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Indeed, USA Today noted that there are more than “40,000 African migrants” currently living in Israel—but failed to mention Israel’s size or population, depriving readers of an important frame of reference.

Repatriating migrants is both legal and a common practice. In many instances, the UNHCR pays the costs to do so. But as CAMERA noted, repatriation from Israel is done at Israeli taxpayer expense. Nonetheless, Israel often provides these migrants with greater monies than the U.N. does.

USA Today’s article omitted this important context. It also failed to inform readers about Israel’s very unique history when it comes to refugees from Africa.

In Operation Moses, Operation Joshua and Operation Solomon, Israel rescued Ethiopian Jews facing famine and warfare, expending considerable state resources to do so. As The New York Times columnist William Safire pointed out: “For the first time in history, thousands of black people are being brought to a country not in chains but in dignity, not as slaves but as citizens (“Interrupted Exodus,” Jan. 7, 1985).”

Those operations involved “complex logistics,” military secrecy and a great deal of daring, including history-making feats such as a 747 cargo plane—part of an operation which involved 35 planes flying 40 flights carrying 14,500 people more than 1500 miles—holding twice as many passengers as it was designed for (“Ethiopian Jews Exult as Airlift is Completed,” The New York Times, May 26, 1995).

Instead of providing readers with this relevant background, USA Today’s story was constructed in a manner that could lead readers to think that the small Jewish nation’s immigration policies were unjust and ungenerous. The truth is anything but.

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