Israel rounds up African migrants for deportation

Israel said on Monday it had started rounding up African migrants in the first stage of a controversial “emergency plan” to intern and deport thousands deemed a threat to the Jewish character of the state.

Israel Radio reported that dozens of Africans, mainly from South Sudan, had already been detained in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, including mothers and children.

“This is only a small group of the infiltrators,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai said. “I’m not acting out of hatred of strangers but love of my people and to rescue the homeland.”

The goal is to repatriate all the estimated 60,000 African migrants, whose growing numbers are seen by many Israelis as a law and order issue and even a threat to the long-term viability of the Jewish state.

Illegal migration, and the pool of cheap labor it provides, is a common headache for developed economies. Israel is grappling with its own special ghosts as it tackles the problem.

For some in Israel, built by immigrants and refugees, internment and deportation are bad solutions that may damage the international image of the country needlessly.

They say rounding up members of a different racial group and holding them in camps for deportation may invite allusions to the Nazi Holocaust, however unfair such comparisons may be, and betrays Jewish values.


About 500 Sudanese men held an orderly protest in Tel Aviv on Sunday against expulsion, the solution chosen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after two months of heated debate over how to handle the flow of migrants.

“We are refugees, not criminals,” the Sudanese chanted, in a retort to allegations that Africans prey on Israeli citizens, following high-profile rape allegations.

Many Sudanese, including hundreds who escaped from conflict and humanitarian disaster in Darfur, have been in Israel for several years, living in legal limbo without formal refugee status, but peaceably, they say.

Now they are caught up in a wave of hostility towards blacks in general, focused on a poor area of south Tel Aviv where they congregate.

“We’re being called a cancer and an AIDS virus on the Israeli people, by politicians in the Knesset,” said protest organizer Jacob Berri. He accused government right-wingers of racist incitement and inflammatory language.

The number of migrants crossing into Israel over the Sinai desert border has accelerated since 2006. It ballooned last year when revolution distracted Egypt’s attention from policing Bedouin people-smugglers operating in the Sinai peninsula.

Israel has now built a high fence along the frontier.

“My policy with regard to the illegal infiltrators seeking work is clear,” Netanyahu said in a May 29 speech. “First of all, to stop their entry with the fence and at the same time to deport the infiltrators who are in Israel.”

He warns of Africans “flooding” and “swamping” Israel, threatening “the character of the country”. Emergency measures to reverse the influx will include “detention facilities with thousands of units”, Netanyahu said last week.

Berri said the South Sudanese number about 700. They know when they are not wanted and will leave, he said. But their refugee status must first be assured by the United Nations, and third-country resettlement programs established.


Israeli human rights and activist groups back the Africans. But right-wing and religious parties say that if they are not stopped today’s 60,000 will become 600,000 in a few years, in a population of 7.8 million.

Poor south Tel Aviv residents say affluent north Tel Aviv Jews can afford to be liberal, because the Africans are not in their back yard. An opinion poll last week showed 52 percent of Israelis agree that the Africans are “a cancer”.

“They’ve come here to rape and steal,” one Israeli woman shouted at a small but ugly anti-migrant demonstration earlier this month in south Tel Aviv. “We should burn them out, put poison in their food,” said an elderly man.

Netanyahu urges restraint. “We are a moral people and we will act accordingly. We denounce violence; we denounce invective. We respect human rights,” he said, but added: “Israel cannot accept “infiltrators from an entire continent”.

The term “infiltrators” is also used by authorities to describe armed Palestinian militants.

Voluntary deportees will get financial assistance.

“Whoever comes forward will get his grant … from the moment you come to immigration authorities and say you will pack up, from that moment you will be given an opportunity to pack up, and the grant of 1,000 euros,” Yishai said.

The first planeload is expected to leave Israel next week.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Dan Williams and Crispian Balmer; editing by Andrew Roche

Israel public sector strike ends

An Israeli public sector strike that has disrupted public transportation and closed banks, the stock market and government offices ended on Sunday with a new wage package for low-earning contract workers.

The Finance Ministry announced the deal with the Histadrut labour federation, which declared the strike that began on Wednesday was over.

The Histadrut had demanded the government hire 250,000 contract workers, such as cleaners and security guards, whose conditions are inferior to those directly on government payrolls.

Under the deal, those workers will not be hired by the state. Instead, they will get pay rises, be eligible for merit bonuses and their pension plans will be improved, according to the ministry statement. (Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch

Israel public sector strike headed for third day

Israel’s banks, ports and stock market were closed in the second day of a general strike on Thursday that threatened to drag on for another 24 hours after negotiations between unions and government hit new obstacles.

The strike called by the Histadrut labor federation, an umbrella organization for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, also halted trains and closed Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv for more than an hour.

The Treasury estimated economic damages from the strike as totaling as much as $500 million a day.

Histadrut wants the government to hire about 250,000 contract workers, such as cleaners and security guards, saying their employment conditions are inferior to workers directly on the public payroll.

The Finance Ministry said it cannot take on that many new workers but has offered to improve conditions by raising salaries by at least 20 percent and giving them more holiday.

Talks, which many hoped would settle the dispute, hit problems on Thursday afternoon when the union said Treasury negotiators asked it not to strike again for another four years.

“There is not a chance I would agree to that,” Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini told Israel’s Channel 10 television.

Eini said the strike may stretch into Friday, when most government offices are normally shut. Israel’s air and seaports would operate normally, Israel Radio said.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Israeli workers launch massive strike

Israeli workers launched an open-ended general strike.

The strike launched Wednesday by the Histadrut, Israel’s main labor union, closed down the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, stopped trains across the country and caused major delays at Ben Gurion Airport. The crippling strike also affected hospitals, government offices and banks.

Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini and Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz met until late Tuesday in order to avoid the strike. Talks between the union and the government failed to reach agreement on including contract workers in labor agreements.

“A strike will not solve the problem of contract workers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “It is possible to improve the conditions of contract workers without striking the economy and disrupting citizens’ lives. There is no magic solution to the employment problems that have been created here over decades; it is possible to resolve the issue through dialogue.”

Ben Gurion Airport was closed from 6 a.m. until noon under the Israel Labor Court’s conditions for allowing the strike to go forward. Most airlines rearranged their schedules to accommodate the closing times.

Wis. governor’s plan threatens workers and Jewish values

More than 100 Jews from all three Madison synagogues gathered Feb. 25 to celebrate Shabbat with services in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Four Madison rabbis led the services for the community members who had crammed into the North Gallery.

Below us, the Capitol Rotunda was teeming with energy—protesters from all over the state were waving signs of opposition to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill.

Singing Shabbat psalms and reciting prayers, we had found a Jewish expression for our deepest values—values of community, education and justice; values of respecting the elderly and caring for the poor, the sick, the mentally ill and the disabled; values of discussion, debate and compromise.

The governor’s legislation threatens these values.

His budget repair bill has nothing to do with solving an emergency budget crisis, nor does it have to do with curbing the excesses of labor unions. This is about political power: Destroy the unions and you have destroyed a key institution representing the interests of the middle and working class.

If this were only about balancing the budget, there would be no need to strip workers of their right to organize or to ram through the legislation without negotiation, compromise or even debate.

Jewish support for the labor movement often stems from religious texts mandating workers’ rights. As the Torah states, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer.” Or it stems from pride in our involvement and leadership in the labor movement in the early 20th century.

While Jewish opposition to Walker’s attempts to destroy labor unions is certainly rooted in these religious and secular ideals, it also centers on fundamental questions at the heart of our Jewish values: What kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? How can we stand idly by when proposed legislation will devastate the very fabric of our communities?

Last week all eight rabbis in Madison representing the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements of Judaism signed on to a letter distributed to colleagues throughout the country that strongly opposes Walker’s proposed legislation. We have enjoyed deep and broad support for this letter because there is a significant consensus that the governor’s bill will have dreadful effects on our state.

Walker and his supporters have tried to pit the public sector and their unions against the private sector, which is largely not unionized. Yet we know that with this legislation we all lose. We all lose because his legislation will drastically reduce the quality of our public schools, state universities and park system, as well as our nursing homes, child care centers and hospitals.

This is an affront to our Jewish values. Far from being a coddled class, public employees are our teachers, bus drivers, prison guards, firefighters and police officers—the very heart of our communities. They are streaming into our Capitol day after day from around the state because their livelihood is in jeopardy.

It is not just the public employees who are protesting. The more than 70,000 people who converged on the Capitol on Feb. 26 were quite diverse: young and old, rural and urban, wealthy and poor. It is a testament to how deeply they care about our future. Their passion and commitment demonstrate our human capacity to raise our voices when people’s health, security and well-being are threatened and to work diligently to create a better world.

As Rabbi Hillel once said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

Laurie Zimmerman is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, Wis.

Kids Page

Workers of the World, Relax

Labor Day is Sept. 5. We think of all the people who work hard to feed their families. Jews have always been very involved in helping those who are in need. They have established labor unions; they have fought for fair wages; they have led movements to improve factory conditions. There is an expression in Hebrew: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh — All of Israel is responsible for each other. Have you done something to help those in need? We want to know about it. Send your mitvah moments to

Speaking of jobs, there are some really interesting ones out there. The following jobs are all mixed up. Put the right words together for some great ideas for your fun future.






Riddle Me This

Q: Which Jew was the worst lawbreaker of all time?

A: Moses, because he broke all 10 commandments at once!


Don’t forget to send in your Amazing Summer Contest Entry. Send a story and a photo. The winner will get their story published and receive a gift certificate.


Computer Age in Israel Turns 50

When young Princeton engineer Jerry Estrin arrived in Haifa on a slow immigrant boat in late 1953 to build the Middle East’s first computer, he faced just two problems: There were no parts or tools, from vacuum tubes to soldering irons, available in Israel, and there was no staff — trained or otherwise.

Today, when Israel’s sophisticated high-tech industry barely remembers its electronic progenitor, Estrin, now a UCLA professor emeritus, and a few old-timers quietly mark the 50th anniversary of the WEIZAC (WEIZmann Automatic Computer), its closet-sized mainframe and some 3,000 vacuum tubes resting in a corner of the Weizmann Institute of Science.

What allowed the seemingly impossible project to succeed, Estrin recalled, was the can-do optimism and improvisational genius of Israelis five years after they had established their own state.

Granted, Dr. Gerald Estrin had a few allies. One was his wife, Thelma, who, like her husband, had a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin. Both had worked for three years with John von Neumann, the principal architect of the computer age, at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and when they left for Israel, Von Neumann presented them with complete plans and specifications for the Princeton IAS computer.

On the Rehovot campus of the Weizmann Institute, the legendary mathematician and geophysicist Chaim L. Pekeris had proposed the computer project as early as 1946 for such complex projects as determining the world’s tides and to delve into atomic physics.

At the time, Albert Einstein, a member of Pekeris’ advisory committee, asked, “Why should poor Palestine build an electronic computer, when there is hardly one in operation on the European continent?”

Einstein was finally persuaded, and the fledgling Weizmann Institute allotted $50,000, then one-fifth of its total budget, to the computer project.

The other chief backer was Meyer Weisgal, who had taken over the leadership of the institute from Dr. Chaim Weizmann. Weisgal, a peerless fundraiser, came up with $100,000 through one judicious phone call to purchase the computer’s magnetic core memory.

The Estrins, both New York natives who recently marked their 62nd wedding anniversary, and their then-10-month-old daughter, Margo, settled in Rehovot.

“My first priority was to hire a staff and then train them in the redesign, testing and fabrication of the computer,” recalled Jerry Estrin.

He placed an ad in a newspaper and right away ran into another unanticipated problem. Almost all the job applicants were post-war immigrants whose records of past education or employment had been lost in the Holocaust. So to winnow out the applicants, Estrin devised some simple tests to gauge their knowledge and aptitude.

In short order, Estrin put together a core staff of three full-time engineers, one technician and a Romanian cleaning woman who was also put in charge of punch cards. The group was augmented by a few part-time technicians.

Ingenuity was also needed to scrounge or devise parts for the WEIZAC. For instance, Estrin and his team needed extremely thin copper strips but were stuck until they discovered a shack, surrounded by goats and chickens, where two recent Bulgarian immigrants had set up shop to make parts for fans and bicycles. In short order, the owners adapted their stamping machines to produce the copper strips.

Fifteen months after the Estrins arrival, WEIZAC, built at a bargain-basement cost of $200,000, was beginning to function. The family, augmented by a second daughter, Judith, born in Tel Aviv, had to return to the United States.

After further tests, WEIZAC went online in 1955, and eight years and 46,000 hours of solid service later, was retired in 1963.

Over the next decade, Estrin returned to Israel every two years and consulted on WEIZAC’s successor computer, appropriately named the Golem (a creature in medieval Jewish folklore that is a slave to its master’s commands). In 1971, he organized the first International Jerusalem Conference on Information Technology, where he presented a digitized portrait of Golda Meir to the then prime minister, herself.

If the Estrins’ work left their mark on Israel, the country left its mark on their family.

“The WEIZAC project drove me to make a contribution beyond my dreams,” Jerry Estrin, now 82, recently reminisced in his Santa Monica home.

Building a team and heading a project in the confrontational Israeli work environment also wrought changes in Estrin’s mild-mannered personality.

“I learned how to pound tables, which stood me in good stead when later I became chairman of the UCLA computer science department,” he said with a half-smile. “But I really fell in love with the people, and if it had been up to my wife, we would have stayed.”

Estrin’s legacy to Israel has been long lasting. By building its own computer in the face of widespread skepticism, Israel “got into the information revolution early in the game,” he said. Perhaps most important, WEIZAC spawned a cadre of engineers and technicians who, with their successors, went on to staff the country’s top-ranked high-tech industries and academic institutions.

The contributions of the two WEIZAC pioneers have been honored and perpetuated through the Estrin Family Chair in Computer Science at the Weizmann Institute, on whose board of governors Jerry Estrin served for more than two decades.

A year after they returned to the United States, UCLA asked both Estrins to join its faculty, he as professor to build a program in computer engineering and she as a pioneer developer of computer applications in brain research.

The Estrins have left a legacy of another kind through their three high-achieving daughters (not too mention four grandchildren).

Judith, born in Israel, has become a kind of Silicon Valley icon, founding four companies and now serving as president and CEO of Packet Design, LLC, which develops networking technology. She has been named three times in Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful women in American business. She considers herself “the black sheep of the family,” because she is the only one without a doctorate.

Deborah, the youngest, is professor of computer science at UCLA and founding director of the Center for Embedded Network Sensing, which last year received a $40 million grant over 10 years from the National Science Foundation.

Only Margo, who was part of the WEIZAC period as an infant, has broken the family computer tradition by becoming a doctor of internal medicine, practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Eulogies:Martin William Siegel

Martin William Siegel, workers’ compensation attorney, died Aug. 18 at the age of 50.

Marty was a well-known and respected attorney specializing in workers’ compensation law throughout Southern California. He successfully supported and defended the rights of a legion of workers.

He will be remembered for his kindness, compassion, dedication, honesty and devotion to family and work.

He is survived by his wife, Geri; son, Eric; daughter, Emily; parents, Sidney and Mildred; and sisters, Marie (Stan) Hecht, Lisa (Jeff) Bluen and Dr. Maxine (Dr. Jack) Baum. — Sidney and Mildred Siegel