Sunday, December 28, 2014

How Unique Was Israel Granting Asylum to Political Escapees in South Africa? Very.

Six months ago, we published on the Israel State Archives site and on this blog a collection of documents covering the relations between Israel and South Africa. As noted then, while collecting and researching the different documents, we came upon an interesting letter, sent by the Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Dr. Chaim Yahil. In the letter, Yahil allows the legation in Pretoria to give asylum to political escapees, without prior authorization by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Israel State Archives employs former diplomats from Israel's Foreign Ministry. When we showed them this document, we were told that it is quite extraordinary, since this kind of authorization allowing a fugitive into an Israeli diplomatic mission is unprecedented.

We have found reinforcement of the uniqueness of Yahil's directive in another document, discovered while preparing the next project in our series of publications concerning Israel's relations with Africa during the 60's. In this document, we found that a previous request to provide political asylum in Israeli missions elsewhere had been rejected.

The request was made in a letter written by Israel's consul-general in Lisbon, Levy Alon, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We didn't find the original letter of Alon, but rather the response from his superiors, who categorically rejected his proposal. Because we lack his original request, we aren't entirely sure of Alon's intentions. Did he expect political opponents of the authoritarian government in Portugal to try and escape into the premises of Israel's consulate in Lisbon?

In any case, as we noted above, this letter rejecting Alon's proposal underscores the uniqueness of the relatively free hand given to the legation in South Africa, and the level of political risk Israel took on itself in allowing asylum there.

Here is the translation of the letter:
Jerusalem, October 15th, 1963

To: Consul-General, Lisbon
From: Deputy Director, West European Division
Subject: [right] of sanctuary in the mission
Your letter no. 103.1/6922 from July 22nd.

We passed the matter for clarification by the [Foreign Ministry's] senior staff, which decided to produce a standing order for Israel's diplomatic missions, in which it is stated that no political asylum should be allowed in any circumstances. This rule applies also to Jews. It is possible that in some extraordinary cases asylum will be permitted, pending on prior approval of the Ministry's senior staff. This is a summary of the order, and you will receive the full and accurate wording in a general circular that will be sent to all missions.

Therefore, your initiative served all [in the ministry].
Yours truly,
Nissim Yaish

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