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Featured Blog: Finding unexpected asylum in Israel

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When scrolling through the news recently, I saw the headline “This Openly Gay Iranian Author is Seeking Asylum in Israel.”  After reading about the refugee crisis and the debate to increase asylum seekers at home in the U.S. and the EU, this story seemed particularly atypical when it comes to international stories.

Payam Feili, the Iranian poet, is pending asylum in Israel, a country whose citizens are not even allowed to travel to his native country. Israel and Iran have been enemies since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This Iranian poet’s journey sheds light on the relationship of Israel and Iran, LGBT rights in Iran and even the miniscule acceptance of refugees or asylum seekers in Israel.

Gay rights in Iran essentially do not exist, and committing gay acts is punishable by death in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Feili had to get published internationally for almost all of his works, as the Ministry of Culture has a strict censorship policy for publications within the country. The LGBT community also faces problems with integrating into society. The Middle East Research and Information Project found that there have been many instances of beatings, rape and a struggle for the LGBT community to integrate itself into society. When talking to Time, Feili felt that he did not actually live in Iran but rather was confined to living in his bedroom. These difficult circumstances caused the young author to leave Iran in search of a better life.

Time Magazine reported that Israel was a “surprising” choice for the gay poet. The poet actually proclaimed his love for Israel and has tattooed a star of David on his neck. He told Vice News that he had become infatuated with Israel after learning about the Holocaust. If accepted, Feili will be joining 140,000 Iranian Jews, even though he is not of Jewish descent. He was well received in Tel Aviv, a city known for its progressive views. Still, LGBT movement leaders believe the country has far to go in terms of equality.

Additionally, Feili’s acceptance or denial will come at a time when Israel is known for the rejection of asylum seekers and refugees. Most of Israel’s refugees and asylum seekers come from Africa, with the majority of these Africans from Sudan and Eritrea. In 2013, Israel passed a law that forced any male African who entered the country seeking asylum to be detained in the Holot desert indefinitely without trial. Human rights non-governmental organizations are demonstrating the need for change in the laws surrounding asylum seekers.

With the EU’s ongoing refugee/migrant crisis, much of the media coverage discusses where the refugees should go. One country that has managed to stay away from the media about the refugee crisis is Israel.

“We are too close, too involved,” said Israel’s minister of transportation Israel Katz. “We are not a European country.” Despite this, some members of the government, like opposition leader Isaac Herzog, have called for the acceptance of refugees. However, the right-wing dominated Israeli government will not be accepting refugees from the Syrian war anytime soon.

So what are the implications for Feili’s request for asylum? This case of asylum seeking stands out among other cases. An Iranian asylum seeker is rare in itself. This decision will draw international attention due to its extraordinary circumstances. The accepting of refugees comes down to the question of national identity. Will Israel accept non-Jewish refugees in years to come? Is Israel a state for non-Jewish citizens? These questions remain at the core of the state of Israel. The government struggles to maintain its status as “a Democratic and Jewish State” from the Basic Laws that govern Israel.

Junior Annie Chester and sophomore Annalycia Liston-Beck also contribute to this featured blog, “Critical International Media Perspectives.”

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