A protest against African refugees in South Tel Aviv last week descended into what one member (MK) of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, called a “pogrom.”
Last Wednesday, a rally was held demanding the expulsion of the 60,000 Africans now in Israel. It followed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying that Israel needed to prevent “illegal infiltrators flooding the country.”
Following the rally, people with dark skin were attacked in the streets, cars were attacked and shops selling to Africans had their windows smashed and were looted. Rioters threw firecrackers at police horses and attacked journalists, calling them “traitors.”
One woman posed for a photographer wearing a white tank-top on which she had written the words “Death to the Sudanese.”
The rally had been addressed by a number of government MKs. One, Miri Regev, said the refugees are “a cancer in our body.” Another MK, Danny Danon, head of the Knesset caucus “for dealing with the problem of the infiltrators,” said: “the infiltrators have to be expelled. We shouldn’t be afraid to say that word – expulsion, now.”
It has followed politicians at the highest levels, including Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and including the mayors of five other cities, calling for the imprisonment and expulsion of the refugees.
When I see a pogrom led by inciters … I wonder how they have the nerve to call themselves Jews.
They don’t understand the meaning of Jewish morals or collective Jewish memory, nor do they understand the meaning of Jewish existence.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres said that “hatred of foreigners contradicts the foundations of Judaism.”
A counter-protest by hundreds of Tel Aviv residents happened on Thursday (pictured) and others have been trying to protect the refugees from attacks, such as walking African children home from school.
Wenesday’s riots were not an isolated incident. Groups working with refugees have been threatened and three weeks ago buildings used by refugees, including a center with a kindergarten, were hit by Molotov cocktails.
Blogger Yossi Gurvitz writes of attending a rally by MK Michael Ben-Ari, a former member of Meir Kahane’s racist Kach party, the day before the riot where his non-white girlfriend was subjected to viscious racist and sexist slurs, and violence by middle-aged women and children after daring to challenge Ben-Ari.
Gurvitz points out that the reason South Tel Aviv remains poor and lacking in services is because the government’s policy for 35 years has been to “create a welfare state – in the West Bank.”
The government of Greater Israel does not have the money for welfare in old Israel, it is busy making facts on the ground beyond the Green Line. And if you want to make facts on the ground, you need settlers. The ideological base is limited. You need to entice people to go there. You want a welfare state? Better move to Beit El.
Like the other inciters – with Netanyahu, long-time national champion, in the lead – Ben Ari doesn’t want the national conversation to turn in that direction. It’s so much better to stir hatreds and resentments.
Crimes by refugees receive maximum media attention. MK Regev, who spoke at Wednesday’s rally about “a cancer in our body,” told Haaretz:
I condemn any violence from any side, but I understand the rage and hurt of the residents, of the families that live there. They tell us: ‘Help us. We are being humiliated, look how we live, we are afraid to leave the house.’
Notes the Jerusalem Post:
Though the crime rate among African migrants is lower than among the general population, according to figures compiled by the Knesset in 2010, this fact is generally lost on the residents of these working class neighborhoods.
Page 2: Read more about the refugees >>
Almost all of the refugees are fleeing persecution, in particular from Eritrea. Many are killed as they endure kidnappings, rape and torture, even allegedly being targeted for body parts as they cross Sinai for the relative safety of Israel. On Friday, Eritrean refugees protested, claiming that Israel maintains relations with the extremely repressive regime as an ally and ignores its human rights abuses.
Asked about the South Tel Aviv riots, protesters told Haaretz:
We do not blame the residents of the neighborhoods, but the politicians who come out with untrue allegations that we came here to work. Everyone sees the pictures of torture in Eritrea and the Sinai. Would someone go through this to work in Israel?
One Eritrean said:
Over the last few days, the demonstrations have created a lot of hatred, and when we try to explain that we fled murder and torture no one is interested. We did not believe that things like this could happen in a democracy like Israel.
In an editorial, Haaretz said:
A dangerous campaign of incitement is now underway in Israel. Our elected officials are trying to profit politically out of people’s misery and at the expense of a poor and helpless group. Human rights activists have also become a target. The history of the Jewish people – rife with instances of incitement, persecution and pogroms – does not resonate with the inciters.
The problem of migrants, which impacts many people who live in poor areas and who bear the burden of the government’s failure to deal with the matter, deserves a serious and comprehensive solution. Meanwhile, it is becoming a badge of shame on an entire society.
Israel is building a fence along almost all of its Egyptian border and an enormous camp to house the refugees. They are given temporary residency, though almost none receive actual asylum. They are not supposed to work but the government generally turns a blind eye.
Removals to Sudan and Eritrea, where almost all come from, are not possible and there is no third country offering to take refugees. Arrivals are dropping and according to William Tall, representative in Israel of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a fence, with crossings where officials grant fair hearings to people’s appeals for asylum, and a properly run refugee center may allow a fair and decent solution.
Picture of Israeli anti-racist protest by Sasha Y. Kimel