As Passover approaches, Jewish human rights groups call on Israel to "Love, therefore, the stranger" among its African asylum seekers

(March 26, 2018) Jewish activist groups concerned with human rights in Sudan, as well as rabbis and prominent members of the Jewish community, have sent a letter to the Israeli government calling on Israel to cease its efforts to deport Sudanese and Eritrean refugees seeking asylum.  Citing Jewish law and current conditions that make return dangerous and unfeasible, the signatories included T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel. 

On January 1st, the Israeli Ministry of Interior announced a plan to forcibly deport Sudanese and Eritrean adult male asylum seekers to a third country, presumed to be Rwanda. The alternative was indefinite detention. There are approximately 38,000 African asylum seekers living in Israel. Half of those could be deported under the plan.  Last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice temporarily suspended the deportation plan and gave the government until March 26 to address legal questions regarding the campaign. Meanwhile, the government is still preparing for deportations to begin on April 1st.

“With the holiday of Passover approaching, how can Israel turn its back on the stranger,’ said Lauren Fortgang, Policy Director for the Never Again Coalition. “The story of Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt should be a stark reminder of a reading from the Haggadah, the Jewish text that is read on Passover – ‘In every generation, a person is obligated to show oneself as if they had left Egypt.’ The desire for freedom and safety did not end with that story. It is very present today. As Jews we should not only feel obligated but a desire to help those who have fled genocide, war, slavery and dictatorship. As the Torah says – ‘Love, therefore, the stranger – for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

Nine national organizations, fifteen rabbis and 81 individuals signed the letter. The full text of the letter is available here. The letter was signed by the following national organizations:

·      Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan

·      Darfur Interfaith Network

·      Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project at Portland State University

·      Never Again Coalition

·      New York Coalition for Sudan

·      Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel

·      Society for Humanistic Judaism

·      Society for Threatened People, US

·      T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

For inquiries, please contact Lauren Fortgang, Policy Director for Never Again Coalition at

Full text of the letter is below.


The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel

The Honorable Aryeh Deri, Interior Minister of the State of Israel

The Honorable Ron Dermer, Ambassador of Israel to the United States

The Honorable Avraham Neguise, Chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs of the Knesset

Mr. Yaron Gamburg, Minister of Public Diplomacy, Israel Embassy to the United States

Mr. Dani Dayan , Consul General of Israel in New York

Mr. Shlomi Kofman, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest


Re: Israel’s Policy Regarding African Asylum Seekers

Honorable Sirs and Mesdames,

We, the undersigned are American Jews who are also Sudanese activists. For over a decade, we have been advocating for peace and stability for the citizens of Sudan. Many of us felt the call to speak up on behalf of Sudanese civilians because the Torah commands us to “Love, therefore, the stranger – for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." We have followed the continued and vicious attacks of the Sudanese regime on its people for far too long. We know all too well just how dangerous life can be for a Sudanese civilian.

It is out of love for the stranger – our Sudanese and Eritrean friends – and love for Israel that we ask you to please reconsider Israel’s decision to deport or indefinitely detain Sudanese and Eritrean single men in Israel.

Although the term “economic migrant” is being used to describe these groups of people, it is very likely that the majority of Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel are just that – asylum seekers – and not economic migrants. We now know that it is very possible that Eritrean asylum seekers have credible cases as well after the February 12 ruling by an Israeli appeals court that Eritreans who deserted military service in their home country have grounds to be considered asylum seekers in Israel.

At the very least, we ask that Israel allow Sudanese and Eritrean people to go through the asylum process before the government makes any decision about deportation. According to the UNHCR, on average, 56% of Sudanese asylum applicants and approximately 84% of Eritrean asylum applicants receive refugee status around the world (as high as 93% and 97% respectively in some countries). In Israel only 1 Sudanese and 10 Eritreans have received refugee status. Meanwhile, thousands of asylum applications have been rejected and thousands more have remained unanswered for years.

We are deeply concerned about Israel’s impending deportation of thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers. We believe such deportations would put the lives of thousands of individuals at risk and contradict Israel's obligations as a Jewish and democratic state.  Our ask is not that all of the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in Israel stay there. That is not a practical longterm solution. We do believe that anyone who has been forced to leave their home country out of fear for their life deserves the chance to seek safety. 

There are better longterm solutions for these refugees than deportation to a third country  -- a country that can give them no guarantees for safety and a path that has a terrible and proven record of human trafficking and death. 

Through testimonies of people who were relocated by Israel to third countries in Africa, it is clear that they did not find a safe place to live and therefore risked their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys through conflict zones in South Sudan, Sudan and Libya to seek protection elsewhere. Some have drowned at sea en route to Europe, while others were reportedly detained, tortured and extorted by human traffickers. Of the Sudanese and Eritreans that were deported to Rwanda, only 9 remain. Further backing up this belief is the finding by 25 Israeli international law experts that Rwanda does not fit the criteria of a 'safe country' according to the standards set by the attorney general.

The Sudanese people have suffered genocide, rape, religious persecution and constant violations of basic human rights at the hand of a president that has been indicted by the ICC for five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide committed in Darfur. It cannot be denied that Sudan's non-Arab peoples, from Darfur to the Nuba Mountains, have been subjected to extreme dehumanization from the government, subjecting them to unspeakable brutalities. 

Among human rights advocates in Sudan, Israel holds a very special place. The Sudanese regime has consistently denounced Israel for years. Many Sudanese activists under siege in their own country feel a tremendous affinity with and special connection to Israel. It is for that reason that so many have sought asylum there.

We appeal to your humanity, your Judaism, your love of Israel and the stranger. Please reverse this policy and halt the plans to deport or detain Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel. 


Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan, Laura J. Limuli, Coordinator, Brooklyn, NY

Darfur Interfaith Network, Martha Boshnick, Co-Chair, Washington, DC

Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project at Portland State University, Amanda Smith Byron, Director, Portland, OR

Never Again Coalition, Lauren Fortgang and Diane Koosed, Founders, Portland, OR

New York Coalition for Sudan, Eileen Weiss, Co-Founder, New York, NY

Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel, Maya Paley, Founder, LA, CA

Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel, DC Chapter, Anna Rose Siegel, Washington, DC

Society for Humanistic Judaism, Paul Golin, Executive Director, Farmington Hills, MI

Society for Threatened People, Sharon Silber, US Representative, New York NY

T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, New York, NY


Rabbi Benjamin Barnett, Havurah Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Jill Borodin, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Daniel Bridge, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Jodie Futornick, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Eli Herb, Temple Beth Sholom, Salem, OR

Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin, Eugene, OR

Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor-Mater, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Debra Kolodny, Portland’s UnShul, Portland, OR

Rabbi David Kosak, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Eve Posen, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Paula Rose, Assistant Rabbi, Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, Herzl-Ner Tamid, Mercer Island, WA

Rabbi Laurence Sebert, Town & Village Synagogue, New York, NY

Rabbi Jonathan Seidel, Congregation Or HaGan, Eugene, OR

Rabbi Joseph Wolf, Portland, OR


Elly Adelman, Portland, OR

Ethan Adelman-Sil, Portland, OR

Muriel and Irv Adler, Beaverton, OR

Anita Alltman, New York, NY

Mark Benjamin, Seattle, WA

Fran Berg, Portland, OR

Dan Berkowitz, Portland, OR

Carolyn Bernhard, Seattle, WA

Marjie Cogan, Seattle, WA

Naomi Dagen Bloom, Portland, OR

Ron Bloom, Portland, OR

Mike Brand, Washington, DC

Brad Brooks-Rubin, Washington, DC

Robert Brown, Portland, OR

Linda Brownstein, Portland, OR

Wendy Busch, Portland, OR

Bailey Campbell, Portland, OR

Scott Cline, Seattle, WA

Carolyn Cohen, Seattle, WA

Chris Coughlin, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Jon Dickman, Portland, OR

Lisa Faveluke, Wilsonville, OR

Beth Fine, Bellevue, WA

Andrew Fortgang, Portland, OR

Sylvia Frankel, Portland, OR

Marty Fromer, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Marty Ganzglass, Darfur Interfaith Network, Washington DC

Sheila Geist, At-large Rights Activist, NY, NY

Todd Gitlin, Columbia University and Board member, Partners for Progressive Israel, NY, NY

Sally Gottesman, NY, NY

Sarah Greenstein, San Marcos, CA

Ashley Harris, Portland, OR

Myra Himmelfarb, Portland, OR

Beth Huppin, Covenant Award recipient, Seattle, WA

Scott T. Johnson, Esq., Los Angeles, CA

Leatrice Kaplan, Portland, OR

Dr. Ronald and Ruth Katon, Lake Oswego, OR

Joel Koosed, Albany, CA

Marla Koosed, Austin, TX

Everett Korman, Darfur Interfaith Network, Washington, DC

Norrie Kurtz, Chatham, NJ

Gil Kulick, NY, NY

Karen Lamorticella, Portland, OR

Carol Lavender, Lake Oswego, OR

Debbie Lawson, Seattle, WA

Bob and Lisa Low, Kirkland, WA

Elsie Mahler Scharff, Everett, WA

Sonia Marie Leikam, Portland, OR

David Marblestone, Darfur Interfaith Network, Washington, DC

Jack David Marcus, New York Coalition for Sudan, NY, NY

Michael McCalbe, Troutdale, OR

Daniela Meltzer, Portland, OR

Susan Monas, Seattle, WA

Katherine Moore, Portland, OR

Martin Morganbesser, Oregon City, OR

Susan Morgensztern, Seattle, WA

Barbara Mutnick, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Melanie Nelkin, Atlanta, GA

Marylou Noble, Portland, OR

Edna Oberman, Seattle, WA

Dr. Dale Oller, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Salem Pearce, Congregational Organizer, Hebrew College Rabbinical Student, Class of 2018

Mary Raskin, Portland, OR

Theresa Rodello, Portland, OR

Joseph Rubel, Molalla, OR

Scott Rubel, Molalla, OR

Gary Sampson, Portland, OR

Rachel Schatz, Molalla, OR

Ann Schneider, Portland, OR

Randolph Splitter, Portland, OR

Harriet and Richard Steinberg, Never Again Coalition, Lake Oswego, OR

Paula Stewart, Tigard, OR

Frida Weisman, Seattle, WA

Richard Young, Darfur Interfaith Network, Miami, FL

Meryl Zegarek, New York Coalition for Sudan, NY, NY

Jennifer Zeidman, Portland, OR

Stanley J. Zeitz, Seattle, WA


Cc: Mr. Reuven Azar, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Israel to the United States

Ms. Ravit Baer, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest

Mr. Amir Sagie, Deputy Consul General of Israel in New York

The Honorable Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations

Mr. David Melech Friedman, United States Ambassador to Israel

Mr. John J. Sullivan, United States Deputy Secretary of State

Mr. Steven Koutsis, Chargé d’Affaires, United States Embassy Khartoum