Noam Sheizaf reports: More than 1,000 Israelis protested this evening (Wednesday) against the African refugees and asylum seekers who have settled in South Tel Aviv in recent years. According to eyewitnesses reports, the crowd grew angry and ultimately violent, following speeches from Knesset Members, including members of the government coalition.
It was one of the most violent protests Tel Aviv has known in recent years. Confrontations were continuing between police and Jewish citizens at around 10:30 p.m. local time.
Dozens of protesters tried to move from the Hatikva neighborhood, where the rally was held, towards Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood, where most African refugees live. They were stopped by police. Protesters attacked a car passing by carrying African immigrants, smashing its windows. Shops associated with the African community were vandalized. [UPDATE: As of midnight, activists in Hatikva are still reporting looting and occasional attacks on Africans.]
In light of increasing violence and harassment in recent days, activists walked refugee children in Tel Aviv home from school on Wednesday in order to prevent them from potential attacks.
According to Maariv’s website, the mob chased a man from Eritrea, who took shelter in a storefront and was rescued by police. At least two journalists were attacked. One fled the area and the other, whose notepad was snatched by protesters, was sheltered by the cops.
Earlier, Knesset members spoke at the event. Some blamed government inaction for the “infiltration problem,” while others heaped attacks on human rights organizations helping the refugees. Knesset Member Miri Regev called the refugees “a cancer.” Regev, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that “leftists” are preventing the state from deporting the refugees back to Africa. Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud), who also spoke at the event, wrote in a Facebook status tonight that “Israel is at war. An enemy state of infiltrators was established in Israel, and its capital is south Tel Aviv.”
Earlier this week, Haaretz reported: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the “phenomenon of illegal infiltrators from Africa is extremely serious and threatens Israel’s social fabric and national security. He made the comments at a cabinet meeting, adding that “if we don’t stop the problem, 60,000 infiltrators are liable to become 600,000, and cause the negation of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Netanyahu also praised the border fence that is being built in the south as a means of preventing infiltrations, but added that it is also important “to physically remove the infiltrators. We must crack down and mete out tougher punishments.”
Five groups that aid African migrants sent a letter to Netanyahu on Sunday, asking that he “immediately order the granting of work permits to asylum-seekers in Israel.” The letter stated that the current situation is forcing migrants to seek shelter in poorer neighborhoods, exacerbating the problems there. “The situation has become intolerable,” they wrote.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai echoed the sentiment expressed by the prime minister, and reiterated his own message last week, when he said that most African migrants are criminals and that all, “without exception,” should be arrested and deported.
On Sunday, Yishai said he is not responsible for asylum-seekers from war-torn countries whose lives might be at risk if deported back to those countries, because “as it is, there are millions more who might be murdered.