If we can put aside the Interior Ministry’s alleged motives for deporting the entire South Sudanese population in Israel for now (which perhaps deserves scrutiny of its own,) three embarrassing and irrational cases stand out. These individuals’ names are withheld, but it is their occupation that concerns us. These South Sudanese individuals are undergraduate students at one of the most prestigious Israeli higher education institutions - but they will face deportation before graduation.
Whilst the 10.6 million citizens of the Republic of South Sudan rejoiced during the July 2011 independence, the South Sudanese diaspora prepared for a shift in the tides of their host states. In Israel, the last barrier to this shift gave way Thursday June 7th, 2012 when the High Court of Justice deemed South Sudan safe for repatriation. The three IDC students’ appeals to the Interior Ministry for student visas or delayed deportation to let them complete their degrees were denied.
What is painfully obvious to the faculty and student body, but conveniently lost on the Interior Ministry, is that deportation before graduation carries with it a heavy opportunity cost (the value of something that would have occurred had a different path been taken). To ponder the imponderable - the true value of this loss - it helps to put these three would-be-graduates in perspective.
In a young and challenged country that will be defined by the youth of this generation, these three young men have a vital role to play. All of them are currently under 30, putting them in the same age group as about 72% of South Sudan's total population. This means that they are naturally positioned to represent the incoming generation that will shape the country’s future.
However, given that only 32% of South Sudanese citizens have ever attended school above the age of six, and only 40% of the population aged 15-24 can even read at a basic level or higher, these three students represent the extreme exception - reading and writing at academic level. Whilst adult literacy rates float at around 27%, between these three students, they read, write and speak Hebrew, English, Dinka and Nuer.
Wise investment for IsraelQuietly, over the past years, IDC Herzliya has been cultivating the future vanguard of the Republic of South Sudan. These three individuals have reservedly become the best and the brightest that South Sudan will have. But this will only remain true if we act now to make it so.
This isn't about law or politics or principle. And it is not about the preservation of the “Zionist and Jewish dream in the Land of Israel,” as Interior Minister Eli Yishai has framed it; these three individuals have no desire to stay in Israel after their graduation. On the contrary, ask any one of the students of IDC’s Government, Diplomacy & Strategy degree what their aspirations are and they all respond in the same way - to go home and lead our country. And they dream big: Professor, legislator, president, ambassador…
But until then, the young republic faces herculean challenges. One in two South Sudanese citizens live below the poverty line and the same ratio describes citizens who can access improved sources of drinking water. The new republic is afflicted by the 19th highest infant mortality rate, and malaria and dengue run rampant. Nearly 80% of livelihood is procured through farming and related practices in the landlocked and severely underdeveloped nation; there are only two paved runways, and 60 kilometers of paved roads. Some 98% of the government budget comes from oil revenues.
It would be hard to find three individuals better equipped to help shape the future of South Sudan if these IDC students are allowed to graduate - but their education is not yet secured. The IDC and the State of Israel have given them an unparalleled opportunity, but now it is up to the Interior Ministry to see them through to the end of that opportunity.
But it is not only out of goodwill or Judaic values that the Interior Ministry ought to grant them the student visas they have so far been denied. Through their experience in Israel, the State has indirectly invested in future foreign relations with the Republic of South Sudan. If these individuals are allowed to continue with their education and graduate prior to deportation, when the day comes for them to assume the leadership role in their nascent state, that goodwill will find its way back to Israel in unpredictable forms.
Cumulatively, these students are the product of our “light unto the nations” experiment, and their journey pays homage to the “we came here to build and be built” ethos of our pioneering forefathers and the universal excellence that Israel has to offer. Their deportation would represent not only an ugly stain in the history of Israel, but also a failure of foresight, reason, and most of all - compassion.