Anne Frank Movement: Hundreds of Rabbis Promise to Hide African Refugees Facing Deportation in Israel

Hundreds of Israeli rabbis on Tuesday said they are willing to hide upwards of 38,000 African asylum seekers facing deportation in coming months under the banner of one of Judaism's biggest heroes: Anne Frank.

The campaign to protect the Africans, most of whom crossed Israel's border with Egypt in an attempt to flee regional civil wars and economic strife over the last decade, is organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization based in Jerusalem whose ranks include Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of comedian Sarah Silverman.

Inspired by the sanctuary movement in the United States, which aims to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation, the group has donned their campaign The Anne Frank Home Sanctuary movement.

"Anne Frank is the most well-known hidden person, and she was hidden so she would not be sent to her death—and we have documentation that these people are facing possible death," Silverman told Haaretz on Wednesday. "People risked their lives to save Jews, and we as a country are now saying we don't want to risk the tiniest demographic shift? We have a prime minister who is quoting Pharaoh when he says [of the asylum seekers] that their numbers will grow. Pharaoh said the Hebrew slaves will grow and overcome us."

Israel_silverman_rabbi_18 Israeli police arrest American Rabbi Susan Silverman (L), sister of comedian Sarah Silverman, and her teenage daughter Hallel Abramowitz (C), after performing Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, on February 11, 2013. Silverman is a leading figure in The Anne Frank Sanctuary Movement, made up of a growing number of Israeli rabbis ready to safeguard African asylum seekers and refugees from deportation. Janos Chiala/AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli government plans to start forcibly removing the African asylum seekers in April, with plans to continue the deportation for two years. Earlier this month, the government said it would give migrants the choice to receive nearly $3,500 to be deported to a third country or be sent to a detention facility indefinitely.

The asylum seekers, however, are concerned about their prospects in their home continent. For years, Africans already deported from Israel have suffered torture, detention and human trafficking, according to a statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees last week.

Israel contends that the mass deportation of asylum seekers—referred to by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "infiltrators"—are needed "to protect the Jewish and democratic character."

The High Commissioner has raised concerns over the planned deportations, arguing that Israel should not deport people back to Sub-Saharan African countries, many of which have faced bouts of famine-induced civil wars for years. Asylum advocates have also criticized Israel for its low admittance rate: According to data from the U.N., only 10 Eritreans and Sudanese have been recognized by the state as refugees since 2009. 

01_12_Netanyahu Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on January 11. The prime minister is accused of receiving lavish gifts from leading Israeli business tycoons. Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty

Silverman told Hareetz that she hopes the Israeli government will reconsider the deportations. She also noted that Rabbis for Human Rights is also considering other forms of protest, including "accompanying asylum seekers on tours to the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem," as well as mass demonstrations at airports to prevent flights carrying asylum seekers to Africa.

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