“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” —Exodus 22:20

As a child, I learned this lesson in Sunday School, where we studied the painful history of the persecution of Jews from Egypt to the Roman Empire and through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Europe. These lessons helped shape my worldview and informed the way I viewed inequities facing other marginalized groups. My support for African Americans confronting the ugly legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is rooted in my faith, as well as the history of my ancestors. My support for policies that enable young immigrants to stay in the U.S. rather than be deported from the only country they know is similarly rooted in my faith. And the history of Jews as refugees is why I oppose the U.S. travel ban on Muslims.

Like many, I am troubled by growing nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. and Europe that emphasizes building walls and curtailing refugee admissions over humane solutions. Despite this global movement towards closing borders, I never expected Israel to follow this deeply troubling trend of intolerance. A country founded by the descendants of European persecution had an obligation to take in refugees—whether Jewish or not. However, the same nation that was founded out of the ashes of the Holocaust seems to have lost its way.

Last month Israeli authorities began distributing deportation notices to thousands of African refugees and migrants. Asylum seekers have until April 1 to leave for an unnamed African country (likely Rwanda) in exchange for $3,500 and a plane ticket. They face imprisonment if they do not leave. Between 2006 and 2012, roughly 60,000 migrants, primarily from Eritrea and Sudan crossed into Israel, many of whom were fleeing persecution and war. Many of the migrants have expressed fear of being sent to another country and have instead said they prefer jail in Israel.

The Israeli government justifies its crackdown by claiming that most of these migrants are looking for work. However, human rights advocates maintain that these migrants are fleeing harsh political conditions in Eritrea, or genocide and civil war in Sudan. Even though Israel has ratified international treaties concerning refugees and refugee rights, the country has accepted less than 1 percent of refugee claims, among the lowest rates in the western world. In contrast, European countries grant asylum to refugees from Eritrea and Sudan about 90 percent of the time.

Israel’s government argues that it does not have the resources to sustain an influx of refugees, and that migrants steal jobs from hardworking Israelis. Yet, there is little evidence that Israel cannot accommodate its fair share of refugees, particularly since the country boasts one of the world’s highest living standards and has among the world’s lowest unemployment rates. Economic arguments in favor of deportations ignore the fact that Israel’s unemployment rate is so low that the country is short of labor. The claim that refugees will irreparably damage Israel’s social fabric is similarly specious. It is hardly conceivable that a few thousand African migrants could dramatically alter the character of a diverse and highly sophisticated nation of 9 million.

Particularly troubling are the dog whistles of Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to the migrants as “infiltrators” and one government minister has even called these migrants and asylum seekers a “cancer.” Another has said that “Israel is not Africa’s employment agency.” Citing the fact that 20,000 refugees have left Israel, Netanyahu declared that “the mission now is to deport the rest.”

As a Jewish American, I am troubled by the rhetoric of leaders like Netanyahu who seem to have forgotten the history of our ancestors. Some of mine came to this country to escape the pogroms and marginalization that were far too prevalent in Eastern Europe around the turn of the twentieth century. They came knowing no English and with little more than some clothes stuffed in a knapsack. The story of my ancestors is not unique. Many Jews in the United States have grandparents or great-grandparents who came to this country to flee European persecution.

As Susan Silverman, an Israeli rabbi and the founder of the Miklat Israel campaign to save these refugees from deportation, noted in a recent New York Times op-ed, the deadline for these migrants to leave Israel cruelly and ironically coincides with Passover, an eight-day holiday that celebrates the successful journey across the Sinai Desert from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. “The first night of Passover, Jews around the world, including the Netanyahu family, will recite the same line during the Seder: ‘In every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as though we personally went out from Egypt,’” she wrote.

Some may suggest that other countries are more repressive. However, I judge Israel not by the values of other countries, but by the values that make it both a Jewish and a democratic state —freedom, equality, the dignity of each individual, and minority rights.

As someone who had his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I feel a deep spiritual and moral attachment to Israel. But, like some of my colleagues, I have at times questioned how lessons I learned in Sunday School—about valuing every individual and empowering the downtrodden—square with the policies of an increasingly nationalistic state whose laws apply inequitably to Jews and Arabs.

While the claims by Israelis and Palestinians stretch back thousands of years—and the seemingly intractable conflict revolves around a complex amalgam of religion, politics, and power dynamics—Israel’s decision to expel refugees fleeing genocide and political violence is hardly as complicated. Rather, this policy is intended to appeal to an increasingly reactionary political base. In deporting those whose only crime is fleeing horrendous atrocities, the Israeli government is violating every lesson I learned about Jews’ obligations to remember our history by welcoming those fleeing persecution.

Max Labaton is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.