Some 40 protesters singing American and Hebrew spirituals protested outside of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv on Sunday night against President Donald Trump’s weekend order banning nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries, including refugees.
“I’m myself an asylum seeker, so I know exactly what it means to be a refugee,” said Togod Omer, 31, from Sudan, who has been in Israel five years. “I know what it’s like to flee your house, to leave your family, I can understand their decision. And when I got to Israel and I understood that Israel didn’t want to let us in, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, so I know what that feeling is like too.”
Omer was one of five asylum seekers at the protest, joined by a largely American-Israeli left-wing crowd.
״All over the world, refugees are the same, the same story, the story of fleeing their home and the reasons they flee,” said Omer, who is a student at Tel Aviv’s Open University and a website programmer.
Elliot Glassenberg, an activist with Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel and one of the organizers of the protest, said he was heartened to see a mix of Israelis and American-Israelis at the protest. “Americans are up in arms against Trump’s policies, but Bibi’s policies have been in place for years: He closed the border to refugees, he puts refugees in prison, he deports refugees,” said Glassenberg.
“The Israeli people have become complacent. But we also want to send a message to Jews protesting Trump’s policies, we hope they wake up to what’s happening in Israel.”
Glassenberg led renditions of “My Country Tis of Thee” and “Dayenu,” with adapted lyrics to mirror the situation asylum seekers face in Israel. Many of the slogans focused less on Trump and more on removing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
Many of the protesters were repeat activists from the women’s march on January 21 at the same location, held in cooperation with women’s marches around the world. “There’s a bit of protest fatigue,” said Shifra Sered, 26, originally from Boston, who lives in Tel Aviv and works at a human rights organization. “Protests are not the only way to fight back. So much sucks right now, and so much is scary right now.”
Still, she said it was important for her to be at the protest despite the small numbers.
“I’m here because I’m outraged as an American and as a Jewish American that the Trump organization has targeted an entire ethnic group,” she said. “As a descendant of Holocaust survivors, I know what happens when refugees are turned away. This situation has been happening here for years. We restrict movements and target certain immigrant groups, refugees are even fleeing from persecution here. We have a responsibility to fight here and there for justice, and to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Five activists from the Central Bus Station Neighborhood Watch, a vocal group that opposes the African migrant communities in south Tel Aviv, stood in front of the protest and waved large Israeli flags in an attempt to block drivers from seeing the protest. Some tour buses that drove by honked in appreciation as tour groups inside cheered in support.
“I love that Trump said what he did,” said Nini, an activist with the Central Bus Station Neighborhood Watch who declined to give her last name. “Closing the borders is the right thing to do. Here they made the decision way too late, and now there are 250,000 Africans in South Tel Aviv.”
According to organizations that work with those communities, there are approximately 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese living in South Tel Aviv.
“The US is a country that leads the world, and what they do can really affect and damage the entire world,” said Omer, the asylum seeker from Sudan. “I never expected to hear this, that the president of the United States would talk like this.
“We’re an international community of refugees, we are one and that’s why we are here,” he added. “Let my people go.”