WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, likened African migrants in Israel to the “Dreamers” at the heart of a contentious U.S. immigration debate and suggested that deporting them would make Israel appear racist.
“African refugees, who seem like the Dreamers in the U.S. — young people who by dint of their parents’ decisions have grown up in this country — who speak fluent Hebrew, when you start physically picking them up and sending them over the border back to South Sudan or Rwanda all the while, while you don’t do the same to Ukrainians or Eastern Europeans who overstay their visas, guys, this is not going to end well,” Greenblatt said Wednesday at the annual conference of Israel’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.
Greenblatt has joined calls on Israel not to deport the African migrants, but casting the call in terms that suggested that it would look racist is an escalation of the debate.
Dreamers is a term coined by immigration advocates to describe illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. President Donald Trump has removed Obama-era protections for them, but has said he will allow them to stay if Democrats agree to make immigration laws more restrictive.
Much of the organized Jewish community, including the ADL, has lined up with Democrats and immigration advocates who call for removing the threat of deportation of the Dreamers.
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year announced plans to deport or jail some 38,000 African migrants seeking asylum status. A range of major U.S. Jewish groups has called on Netanyahu to abandon the plan.
This week, the Conservative movement joined the array when its Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement that it has “grave concerns about this initiative, which has raised cries of dissent in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.”
Greenblatt warned that the deportation would further erode U.S. Jewish support for Israel, which has taken hits over restrictions on non-Orthodox Jewish activity in Israel and previously because of tensions between the governments of Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama.
“I think Israel has the most unique, extraordinary asset in its hands, which is the support of the Diaspora and American Jewry,” he said. “It is a natural resource that you will squander, that you will suboptimize and that won’t always be there if you don’t manage it well.”