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Title: "We Were All Once Refugees:" The Battle Over Israeli Policies Towards African Asylum Seekers
Authors: Aronoff, Maya
Advisors: Barton, Frederick
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2019
Abstract: Background: From 2003 until the time of writing, approximately 60,000 African migrants—primarily from Eritrea and Sudan—have entered Israel through the southern border with the Sinai in Egypt. Israeli policy regarding these migrants has remained in legal limbo for almost two decades. While they are not deported to Eritrea and Sudan, the remaining ~40,000 asylum-seekers in Israel lack basic rights and social services. The government has sometimes pursued more dramatic policies to end the deadlock including incarceration, deportation to third countries, and “the UNHCR deal”—which lasted less than a day in the spring of 2018. Objectives: This thesis seeks to address three key questions: 1. What is the relative impact of international and domestic political and cultural factors, as well as individual psychological factors, in shaping the changes in Israeli policy towards African asylum-seekers over time, with a focus on the rapid changes since 2017? 2. Given this analysis, what policy changes should different actors within Israel take in the future? 3. What implications does Israel’s experience with African asylum-seekers have for other nations crafting immigration policy, for the international refugee regime, and for future research? Methods: This research will drawn on 1) in-depth interviews with over 50 people, including academic experts and stakeholders in Israeli society (politicians, activists, lawyers, advocates, journalists, and African asylum-seekers themselves) and 2) a survey of human rights reports and scholarship from a variety of disciplines including political science, political anthropology, and political psychology. Results/Conclusions: Throughout all three phases of policy-making, but especially from 2017-present, domestic political factors have been the driving forces behind Israeli policy changes in two key ways. First, political power struggles have motivated politicians in the right-wing coalition to foster animosity towards the asylum-seekers without providing solutions. Second, broader Israeli political culture has contributed to a unique tension for a polarized public, in which fully accepting the asylum-seekers is perceived as a threat to the Jewish character of the state, while outright deportation is perceived as an unconscionable violation of Jewish values and history (which I term “exceptional universalism”). These competing social narratives have contributed to a tug-of-war in which the policy resists escaping “limbo.” International factors and individual psychological factors—specifically, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s—have also impacted policy under certain conditions. Primarily, the entrenchment of international norms in Israel’s judiciary has provided a strong check on restrictive policies. Netanyahu’s personal psychology and ideologies were the driving factor behind the UNHCR policy reversal. The shifts in policy over this time imply that increasing acceptance of asylum-seekers will be most likely when pro-acceptance activism emphasizes the moral and religious obligations of the Jewish people, when international organizations and actors offer Israel incentives for acceptance, and when such offers are framed in a way that minimizes the criticism Netanyahu will face or convinces him that his personal political gains will offset his personal political costs (of course, this is only relevant if he is-reelected this week).
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2023

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