Rachel Shabi writes: Last month, demonstrations against African refugees in Tel Aviv turned violent. Protesters looted shops, broke windows and firebombed buildings, including a nursery. Days ago, arsonists torched the home of 10 African migrants in Jerusalem, injuring four, and leaving the unequivocal graffiti: “Get out of the neighbourhood.”
On Monday, Israeli TV reported that Haifa’s council had warned local businesses that they risked losing their licences if they employed African refugees, and that shopkeepers in the southern town of Sderot were refusing to serve migrants. Israeli statistics show some 60,000 African migrants have entered the country in the past seven years through the Egyptian Sinai desert – many of them asylum seekers fleeing repression or war in Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea. Israel, much like Europe, seems consumed with worry about being “swamped” by developing-world refugees – although, perhaps in part because of its location, the fears in Israel sound more visceral. So far, Israel’s approach has been to build a steel fence on the Egyptian border and a giant detention centre in the south, and to pass a law that allows the detention of migrants for up to three years. Since its creation, fewer than 150 people have been recognised as refugees in Israel.
The crude response from politicians has been as disturbing as the scenes on the streets. Last week, the interior minister, Eli Yishai, said: “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.” He has also described the refugees as rapists and criminals. Weeks ago, Miri Regev, a Likud member of the Knesset, referred to Sudanese people in Israel as a cancer. Former TV presenter and emerging politician Yair Lapid last month lambasted some Knesset members as “inciters” leading a pogrom, and wrote: “I wonder how they have the nerve to call themselves Jews.” [Continue reading…]