Co-founder Sigal Rozen and Director Silvina Landsmann
Hotline is a nonprofit organization in Israel that manages to stir up quite a lot of controversy by aiding the plight of refugees from mostly Africa who stream into the country, often illegally. Run by Sigal Rozen — who replied to these questions instead of the filmmaker who made this documentary about the organization — it is a flashpoint for those who fear, like in many countries worldwide, that these new cultures threaten their own.
Why did you decide to tell this tale?
SL: I approached “Hotline” because I wanted to observe from close the daily work of an NGO, curious to discover how an organization of the civil society works in the framework of modern democracy. I was lucky to obtain Hotline’s authorization to follow their work with a camera (and a soundman), during 4 months, on a daily basis. During this “plunge”, or “immersion”, I gathered more tha+n 400 hours, which I edited to a 100-minute long film in a process that took me one year.
Your work seems almost masochistic, as you appear to take heat from all sides, from refugees for not doing enough, from anti-immigration voices for doing too much.
SR: I’m definitely not masochistic. I don’t feel that I take heat from all sides. I feel that there is frustration and anger on both sides and I totally understand it. As much as it hurts me to tell a mother that her son who was born in Israel will be deported, it hurts me to listen to a Jewish resident of the neighborhood who suffers from so much hate that she wishes for my daughter to be raped. I feel really sorry for both women and I strongly believe that the Hotline’s activities will improve the fate of them both.
But I don’t enjoy this pain. I feel that if we stop, the pain will be greater since the situation will not be improved, only we will not be there to try and improve it at least a little bit. Many people ask me how I manage to do this work for 18 years already. I don’t understand this question since I feel that I do the natural thing to do. I usually answer that I don’t know how they can know what the government is doing in their name and do nothing about it. This is so much more unnatural.
Refugee matters are hugely controversial everywhere, but in Israel, which is a Jewish state, the situation is perceived to undermine the very roots of the country. How do you reconcile that?
SR: I totally disagree with your statement. There are now 43,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. There is a fence that blocked the flow and the situation is under control. Even if there were 100,000 or 200,000 Africans, they do not threaten to undermine the root of the country.
There are 6 million Jews in Israel. Israel brought under the law of return 300,000 Christians and Muslims from the ex-Soviet Union and they brought nothing but blessing to the State of Israel. We know how to absorb immigrants. We are the world champions in absorbing immigrants. Even if we absorb all the asylum seekers, they will not change our demography.
In addition, Judaism is not just about demography, I believe that Jewish values are more important than demography. When we deport refugees and make them risk their life trying to find another refuge, we trample on our Jewish values. This is far more dangerous to a Jewish state.
How does Hotline ensure that they are not aiding potential terrorists from entering Israel?
SR: It is not a concern at all since up until now, not even one of the 64,000 African asylum seekers who entered the country was suspected to be involved in terrorism. People who want to be terrorists enter Israel and blow themselves up in crowded places. They don’t pretend to ask for asylum since in prison they can hurt only African Christians and Muslims.
How is the refugee situation today, especially with the Syrian war?
SR: The situation deteriorated even more since the film was made and the government already managed to push out to their homelands or to Rwanda and Uganda about 15,000 asylum seekers. The Syrians did not make any difference since Israel takes them in only for emergency medical treatment but sends them back when they recover. Most of the Syrians don’t want to stay in Israel but the few who wanted were deported back to Syria anyway. There is not even one registered Syrian asylum seeker.