Holocaust Survivors Ready to Shelter Refugees in Defiance of Israel's Mass Deportation Plans

Survivors of the Holocaust have spoken against a plan by the Israeli government to deport thousands of Africans, with some saying they are ready to hide migrants at their homes.

Last month, the Knesset voted in favor of toughening restrictions on migration and closing a detention facility ahead of planned deportations of migrants to Rwanda and Uganda. The government gave migrants the option to leave voluntarily until April, and receive $3,500, airfare and other incentives, or face incarceration. The move was condemned by rights group and the United Nations.

In spite of the fact that earlier in January both Uganda and Rwanda denied reaching a deal with Jerusalem on the planned deportations, demonstrations are still taking place in Israel.

At least 1,000 Eritreans and 100 Israelis gathered outside the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya on Monday (January 22) to demonstrate, local media reported.

Dozens of migrants also protested outside President Reuven Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem.

Some Holocaust survivors told the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth that Israel has a moral obligation to protect migrants and that they were ready to host them to prevent their deportation, the Times of Israel said.

"I always asked myself what I would have done if, during the Holocaust, I was on the other side—would I have been strong enough to do what the Righteous Among the Nations did?" said Veronika Cohen, 73, a survivor from Budapest, Hungary.

"I don't know if I would have been able to risk the lives of my children, but here they aren't asking us to risk our lives. I feel that to do this is my humanitarian duty."

Israel deportation of African migrants
African migrants demonstrate against the Israeli government's policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers from Israel to Uganda and Rwanda, outside the Rwanda embassy on January 22, 2018 in the Israeli city of Herzliya. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

Another one drew a comparison with Anne Frank, the Dutch girl who wrote a diary while she was hiding with her family in Amsterdam during the Holocaust. They were eventually found and killed in concentration camps.

"Who were the heroes in addition to Anne Frank?" 77-year-old Hana Arnon asked. "The people who tried to save her and her family. We need to learn from them."

Ilana Drucker, 79, rejected the comparison with Anne Frank, but said she was ready to take a refugee at her home.

"I am angry that this is being compared to Anne Frank," she said. "If I take in a refugee to my home, they won't kill me and it won't endanger my family. My parents were friends with Anne Frank's parents. The family that hid us risked their lives."

There are an estimated 35,300 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in Israel. Of these, only eight Eritreans and two Sudanese had been recognized as refugees.

Most of the migrants are seeking asylum as they claim they escaped from warfare and persecution, but Israel considers the majority of them as economic migrants.