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South Sudanese 'returnees' leave Israel

The first plane carrying South Sudanese "returnees" out of Israel arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on June 19.

Amidst escalating tensions over African migration to Israel, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai described the eventual "return to their homes and countries" of [migrants] as "inevitable."  Of Israel's 60,000 African migrants, the majority come from Eritrea and the two Sudans. 

Greeting the plane in Juba, Joseph Lual Achuil, South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, claimed that the process of return was voluntary: "People are not being deported. We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated," he said.  While ‘returnees' are being offered a stipend of $1300 per adult and $500 per child by the Israeli government, the degree to which repatriation is truly a matter of choice is debatable

While those who left Israel on the first plane volunteered to do so, the crackdown, known under the code name "Operation Going Home," has rounded up and arrested hundreds of migrants so far. The usually bustling neighborhood of ‘Little Africa' in South Tel Aviv is reportedly deserted. New laws allowing migrants to be jailed for up to three years without trial or deportation came into effect on June 3. In addition, any Israeli citizen harboring or helping migrants can now face jail time of up to 15 years.

The current government campaign to stem the flow of African migrants has begun with newly independent South Sudan -- the only one of the top three source countries which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel. 

Many South Sudanese fled to Israel to escape the ongoing violence at home, often crossing the Sinai desert from Egypt by foot to reach Israel. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that 1,500 South Sudanese are no longer at risk in their homeland and can be returned home, giving the government the legal right to deport them.

Recent months have seen protests and acts of vandalism targeting African communities in Israel, an atmosphere that  many claim has been instigated by the comments of some politicians. The deportation drive is also creating immense discomfort amongst many Israeli citizens, who are acutely of aware of their own identity as an immigrant nation founded by Jews fleeing persecution in Europe after World War II.

The subtext beneath the deportation process is a racial argument that cuts to the core of competing views about what Israel's identity as a ‘Jewish state' should entail.  For the current government, identity is clearly framed by ethno-religious demographics.  As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues:

"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.  This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."

Whether such a view can be justified as commensurate with Jewish values remains to be decided.

DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/GettyImages

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Romney vs. Rubio

Mitt Romney told reporters today that Sen. Marco Rubio is being "thoroughly vetted" by his campaign as a possible Vice Presidential nominee. The news came just hours after it was reported by ABC news that the Florida senator had not yet been sent a questionnaire or asked to submit financial documents.

As I noted after Rubio's foreign-policy speech at the Brookings Institution in April, Rubio's national security rhetoric certainly doesn't make it sound like he's angling for a spot on the ticket. The two politicians disagree on some pretty big issues:

Immigration:

Romney positioned himself to the right of competitors Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry on immigration, favoring the construction of a full-border fence and opposing any policy to grant residency to illegal immigrants. Since the White House's announcement that it would stop deporting thousands of young illegal immigrants this week, Romney has avoided the question of how to handle young people who were brought to the country illegally but have grown up in the country, saying "that's something I don't want to football with as a political matter."

This is probably the area where Rubio has differed most from the Tea Party wave that he rode into Congress. Himself the son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio has promoted a GOP alternative to the DREAM act, which would allow undocumented immigrants who graduated from high school and have no criminal record to obtain a nonimmigrant visa, allowing them to obtain a driver's license or continue to study in the country. Unlike DREAM it would provide no pathway to citizenship. The proposal is actually similar in practice to the policy change announced by the White House this week, and Rubio's office is currently reevaluating their proposal.   

Foreign aid

Romney has argued that "I happen to think it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid and has proposed cutting at least $100 million from the foreign aid budget.

Rubio has expressed bafflement at the hostility many of his congressional colleagues express toward foreign aid. "In every region of the world, we should always search for ways to use U.S. aid and humanitarian assistance to strengthen our influence," he said in his Brookings speech, describing aid such as former President George W. Bush's increased funding for AIDS prevention in Africa as "a very cost-effective way not only to export our values and our example, but to advance our security and economic interests."

Libya

Romney's position "evolved" several times on intervention in Libya. But by April 2011, he seemed skeptical about U.S. involvement, writing, What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle.... Military action cannot be under-deliberated and ad hoc. The president owes it to the American people and Congress to immediately explain his new Libya mission and its strategic rationale.

Rubio was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the no-fly zone in Libya and later noted that t "many of my loyal supporters were highly critical of my decision to call for a more active U.S. role in Libya." Interestingly, though, he has not gone as far as his allies John McCain and Joe Lieberman in calling for military intervention in Syria.

Arab Spring

Romney has expressed strong concerns that anti-authoritarian movements in the Middle East will lead to an eruption of anti-Americanism and Islamic fundamentalism. "We're facing an Arab Spring which is out of control in some respects because the president was not as strong as he needed to be in encouraging our friends to move toward representative forms of government," he has said.

Rubio, on the other hand, thinks the benefits of more Middle Eastern democracy will outweigh the risks. "What is the alternative to democracy? Is it pro-American dictators? Well, that's an oxymoron, in my opinion, number one. And number two, they're not sustainable," he said at the Council on Foreign Relations in May.  

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Of course, in the end, the main reason to be skeptical of the Rubio buzz isn't the inconsistencies in the two men's positions, but Rubio's own ambitions. As I wrote in April, Rubio's increasing interest in foreign affairs seems less like a VP audition than an attempt to burnish his credentials as a national security leader. Rubio seems like a very likely presidential candidate in either four or eight years and might be more likely to accomplish that goal by staying right where he is for now.  

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