Rabbi Shmuley Boteach praised Sheldon Adelson in his recent column, which mentioned an event on genocide where Adelson gave the introductory remarks (“As money grows, rabbis shrivel,” September 20.)
It is unfathomable how a man like Adelson can be honored this way, when his bully-pulpit newspaper Israel Hayom consistently incites xenophobia against African asylum seekers in Israel, including those fleeing genocide in Darfur.
Adelson’s newspaper runs story after story labeling Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers as “illegal infiltrators” and “economic migrants.” Israel Hayom sensationally stokes hate with blanket portrayals of Africans as a violent criminal element.
The Adelson/Boteach event on genocide at Cooper Union in New York on September 29 was subtitled: “Do the Strong Have a Responsibility to Protect the Weak?” The answer to that question, both from a human rights perspective and from a Jewish perspective, is a definitive yes.
As party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, Israel must stop returning refugees to dangerous situations without allowing them to have their legal claim for asylum heard and evaluated. Within Jewish scripture, one of the most repeated Jewish commandments is to care for gerim, the landless sojourners who seek refuge among us.
If Rabbi Boteach is serious about genocide, he should call out Adelson for his insidious rhetorical role in the mistreatment of African asylum-seekers in Israel who have fled genocide and other atrocities.
Director of Israel Programs, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
New York, N.Y.
Shmuley Boteach responds:
Sheldon Adelson is the largest single donor to Yad Vashem and countless Holocaust educational programs worldwide. As someone who has contributed $200 million to Birthright alone – with its mandatory visits to Yad Vashem – Mr. Adelson has arguably exposed more young Jews to the Holocaust than anyone else.
Now the Adelsons have partnered with me in ensuring the world properly commemorates the Rwandan genocide, sponsoring the event I organized this past Sunday that attracted over 1,000 people, and brought together, for the first time, Elie Wiesel and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Every country makes a distinction between asylum seekers and economic immigrants. Israel must of course do its utmost to welcome those fleeing genocide and murder, and I personally discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu allowing 5,000 Syrian refugees into Israel.
Approximately 70,000 Eritrean and Sudanese citizens took advantage of what was an open border between Israel and Egypt, and crossed into Israel. The Israeli Refugee Status Determination Committee checked thousands of cases and apparently found a minority to be asylum seekers, with the others registered as economic migrants. While I wholeheartedly agree that Israel should open its doors to those fleeing genocide, illegal immigration on the part of workers remains as controversial in Israel as it is here in the United States, and will continue to be debated by Israel’s citizens and publications.