I am often a spokesperson for the pro-Israel community in Australia. I do deliberately put-forward a line that is favourable of Israel and I admit that, from time to time, I will downplay information that runs contradictory to that line.
It is not an attempt to deny or whitewash anything, more a necessary aspect of being a part of a public debate. Ceding ground can have severe consequences, so must be done very carefully. It is made especially difficult for people like me to give honest criticisms of Israel when faced with opponents who are unrelenting, intolerant and even genocidal.
Any small criticism of Israel made by someone in my position is taken to be vindication for views that I find abhorrent. A common and very prominent example can be seen in comments made by now Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak a few years ago that Israel could become an apartheid state if action was not taken on the peace protest.
Barak was playing domestic politics — trying to malign his right wing rivals for not taking enough action on the peace process. However, I cannot count the number of times I have heard that Barak quote followed by something like ‘I agree with Mr Barak, I just think that Israel already is apartheid’, as though this were a perfectly natural conclusion to come to and there was just a minor disagreement between the speaker and Barak.
And of course, as a certain Jordanian BDS group reminded us recently, many of my opponents have some kind of racial prejudice thinly masked by their adopted rhetoric. In a charming Facebook discussion, several Jordanian Palestinians made it perfectly clear that, to them, any Jewish presence in ‘historic Palestine’ is illegitimate and the Jews should all ‘go home’. No, none of them could answer where exactly ‘home’ is.
ALL CITIZENS OF THE ILLEGAL STATES OF “ISRAEL” ARE A PART OF THE ZIONIST COLONIAL PROJECT, EXCEPT THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE OF PALESTINE, AND SO, ALL THOSE WHO SERVE THE ZIONIST PROJECT ARE ZIONISTS FOR US, REGARDLESS OF THEIR RACE, RELIGIOUS BELIEVES OR DISBELIEVES OR POLITICAL VIEWS, FOR DISAMBIGUATION, ANY NON-ISRAELI JEW IS NOT A ZIONIST, ANY PALESTINIAN JEW IS NOT ZIONIST, AS LONG AS THEY ARE NOT SERVE THE ZIONIST COLONIAL PROJECT BY OTHER MEANS THAN CITIZENSHIP
That said, I think it is extremely important to be credible when speaking on these issues. Using ‘their’ tactics against them is not a strategy that I can follow in good conscience.
While I may write carefully in order to give a certain impression, I am not dishonest, I do not lie, and I do not manipulate the truth for convenience’s sake. This is why I am extremely bothered by people like Maurice Ostroff, who has done all of the above in an op-ed in today’s Jerusalem Post regarding a group of African asylum-seekers who were trapped between Israel and Egypt for the past week.
Contrary to the claim that the Convention obligates Israel to permit these refugees to enter the country, there is no provision at all in the Convention requiring a contracting state to allow entry of refugees who are not already in its territory. Article 33 refers only to refugees who have already entered, whether legally or illegally.
This omission of a requirement to admit refugees not already in the territory was evidently deliberate, as described in the judgment in the matter of Regina v. Immigration Officer at Prague Airport .
The judgment refers to the important backdrop to the Convention as described in “Refugees under International Law with a Reference to the Concept of Asylum” (1986), as follows: “States the world over consistently have exhibited great reluctance to give up their sovereign right to decide which persons will, and which will not, be admitted to their territory and given a right to settle there. They have refused to agree to international instruments which would impose on them duties to make grants of asylum.”
As regular readers will be aware, I make a habit of checking sources.
Here is the UK House of Lords case to which Ostroff was referring (European Roma Rights Centre and others v Immigration Officer at Prague Airport  1 All ER 527). The passage that he quoted was not a ruling by the Court, it was one judge quoting an Australian case that the court had been referred to by counsel for the appellants.
In fact, referring to that case at all is disingenuous to say the least. The case concerned Czech citizens who were trying to claim asylum without leaving the Czech Republic — meaning they could not possibly be considered ‘refugees’ as they were not ‘outside their last country of habitual residence’. This was also at a time when the UK was being flooded with asylum seekers from the Czech Republic, the majority of whom were not valid refugees.
There is not really any comparison to a group of African asylum seekers fleeing from Egypt, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and which has some rather unnerving practises like shooting asylum seekers as they try to reach Israel.
In fact, the Prague Airport case was brought by Roma who claimed to have been discriminated against when British immigration officials would not let them board planes to the UK — and they won! The Court ruled that British authorities could not refuse to allow Roma into the country on the premise that they might claim asylum once there.
Meanwhile, this was just sickening:
In terms of Article 33, a refugee (as defined in Article 1) may not be expelled or returned (“refouler”) to territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Clearly this does not include threats by common criminals. If this were the case it would apply to citizens of all countries suffering from a high crime rate like Colombia, Mexico and South Africa, which was plainly not the intention.
It is therefore obvious that the Convention does not cover the circumstances of refugees seeking admission to Israel from Egypt.
‘Common criminal’ is a broad and meaningless phrase. Let’s look at the actual situation and see if it fits.
Ostroff was referring to these comments by the UNHCR representative in the region:
“The most worrying thing to me is the discussion of pushing them back into Egypt, which is highly irresponsible, because if they go back to Egypt there is a high risk these people will fall in the hands of human smugglers, and it is well known, it is all documented, that many of these people have been abused, there are cases of torture or rape, and if you send them back you are sending them to a situation with a very high degree of insecurity.”
The Sinai is a largely ungoverned and chaotic region of Egypt. Its local population is mostly Bedoin and they make their money through organised crime, exploiting their convenient location on the land-bridge between Africa and Europe/Asia.
They also like to dabble in things like the human slave trade and kidnapping for ransom. They particularly like to target the vulnerable Africans trying to escape the continent as they know that these people have no real protection.
The Egyptian authorities have struggled to control this at the best of times and right now is probably the worst of times in this regard.
There is no ambiguity for Ostroff to hide behind, sending the asylum seekers back to Egypt would have meant that their “life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership”.
Attacking Egypt for turning a blind eye to inhumane treatment is entirely valid, however it is completely unjust to try and pretend that Egypt is an acceptable place for these people and Israel is under no obligation to take them in.
The worst part of Ostroff’s polemic, however, was this:
The lack of credible information from the Foreign Ministry and the IDF spokesperson is a sad reflection on Israel’s public diplomacy. While admiring the valuable humanitarian work performed by Israeli groups like “We Are Refugees” that filed a petition in support of the migrants, I am disturbed by the ill-founded criticism which has been disseminated worldwide by them and by William Tall, the UNHCR representative in Israel.
Clearly, Ostroff does not admire the petitioners who managed to convince the High Court that Israel had to let the refugees in. He is essentially advocating that the Government of Israel do everything it can to oppose them and then take credit for their work when it loses.
That is dishonest and contemptuous. It does the pro-Israel cause no favours at all.