African Refugees in Israel

Israel is now turning 70, and for 70 years we’ve brought in millions of Jewish refugees from all over the world. And now, for the first time in 2000 years that we have some kind of Jewish sovereignty and we have a political body that is able to protect others, we have non-Jews seeking asylum in the Jewish state. If Israel sends off my Eritrean and Sudanese friends to Africa...if I haven’t done everything in my power as a human being and as a Jew to stop it, I don’t know if I’ll be able to live with myself, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to live in the state of Israel.
— Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg

Israel has a complicated history with refugees. Many Jewish refugees found shelter in Israel after the Holocaust; many Palestinians, on the other hand, became refugees after the 1948 war. But in this episode, we talk about Israel’s other refugees, those you may not have known about: African refugees who come mostly from Sudan and Eritrea escaping oppressive regimes and persecution.

Mutasim Ali is a Sudanese refugee, one of 35,000 African refugees currently living in Israel -- but one of only 13 to have his refugee status recognized by the state. As of December 2017, all of the others are at risk of deportation. Israel has already started sending refugees to countries that offer them no status or security.

In this episode, Unsettled producer Asaf Calderon speaks to Mutasim and advocate Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg about the unfolding crisis. Why did so many African refugees choose Israel? Why doesn't Israel want them? What does Israel's treatment of these refugees say about the state of the Zionist experiment? And what can Americans do to help?

This episode of Unsettled is hosted by Asaf Calderon and edited by Ilana Levinson. Music by Nat Rosenzweig and Podington Bear.


Mutasim Ali is a law student at the College of Law & Business, Ramat Gan and former executive director at African Refugees Development Center (ARDC), a community-based organization to protect, assist, and empower African refugees and asylum-seekers to advocate on their behalf. He is an advocate for change and democracy in Sudan.


Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg is an American-Canadian-Israeli Jewish educator-activist. Elliot is a senior educator at The Kibbutz Movement and BINA: The Jewish Movement for Social Change and the central shaliach (emissary) for Habonim Dror Olami in North America. Currently based in Chicago, Elliot leads activities and teaches throughout North America. Elliot is an activist for Jewish pluralism and inclusion, refugee rights, LGBTQ rights and human rights, and his educator-activist approach focuses on the application of Judaism for social change. Elliot is co-chair of Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel, a blogger for The Times of Israel, and has published in Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Week, and elsewhere. A native of Chicago, Elliot earned a B.A. from McGill University, and an M.A. in Jewish Education and Jewish Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Elliot worked in the field of Jewish education in North America before making aliyah to Israel in 2011, where he served as Director of International Communication for BINA and became a leading activist for refugee rights in Israel.