Law professor to give two talks on asylum-seekers in Israel

The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies will present two free lectures next month by Michael Kagan, associate professor of law at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

The first, “Finding Refuge: Can Non-Jews Seek Asylum in the Jewish State?” will be held Monday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center as part of the Shaol & Louis Pozez Memorial Lectureship Series.

In 1950, the young State of Israel, along with a number of Jewish organizations, played a leading role in drafting the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Kagan explains. This treaty has become the foundation for the international community’s commitment to shelter refugees through its promise that no person should be forced to return to a country where she faces a well-founded fear of persecution. Yet Israel itself received very few asylum-seekers until the 21st century. But in recent years, tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have sought safe haven in Israel, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea. Israeli leaders have responded harshly, calling the influx a threat to Israel’s Jewish identity. Given Israel’s location in a region rife with human rights abuses, it is an urgent matter to determine whether Israel can be expected to provide protection to non-Jews who — but for their fears of persecution — would not be allowed to remain in the country.

Kagan will deliver his second lecture, “Nowhere to Run: Gay Palestinian Asylum-Seekers in Israel,” on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. at the UA Hillel Foundation, 1245 E. Second St. Parking will be available at the Second Street garage.

Gay Palestinians have been caught in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says Kagan. In the West Bank, they have been attacked by militant groups and sometimes tortured by the Palestinian Authority. The easiest place for them to flee is often Israel, where they are refused the right to even have their asylum cases heard because of their nationality. Although it helped to lead the development of international refugee law in the 1950s, Israel has resisted building a genuine asylum system for non-Jewish refugees. For Palestinians, resistance to granting asylum is especially high, in part because of confusions and sensitivities fed by the still unresolved Palestinian refugee problem that dates from Israel’s creation in 1948.

Kagan brings a unique perspective to the study and practice of immigration law, having spent 10 years building legal aid programs for refugees throughout the Middle East and Asia. He has written several of the most widely cited articles in the fields of refugee and asylum law, which have been relied on by multiple federal courts of appeals, and by courts in Israel and New Zealand.

For more information, contact John Winchester at jwinches@email.arizona.edu or 626-5759.