Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Too Black For Israel

Guest Writer Jean Riesman
Today marks the beginning of an experiment for me with Urban Ecology.  I'm pleased to announce guest writers every Friday throughout the summer. Except for this week.  Jean Riesman, friend, co-conspirator in many ventures and cogent observer of the Palestinian crisis has agreed to write about a growing crisis in Israel -- racialized violence against African immigrants.  She is making the first of what I hope are frequent visits to the virtual page of Urban Ecology. 

Too Black for Israel
Jean Riesman
There it is – no code words, no euphemisms, but out in the cleansing desert sun of ethnic decontamination: African immigrants are too black and too not-Jewish for Israel. Declaring that all African migrants "without exception" should be expelled before the "[i]nfiltrators, along with the Palestinians,…bring a quick end to the Zionist dream," Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai put the race card down on the unvarnished table: "Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn't belong to us, the white man."

"Infiltrator" has become the standard term for African refugees and asylum-seekers, as if they were a threat to both demographic purity and national security, the underground plume of a hidden contaminant or the conspiratorial advance guard of a territorial invasion. To contain infiltration requires strategic engineering, a way to intercept the ominous flow. In Israel, the containment system under construction includes a 150-mile-long fence along the Egyptian border, a detention center for up to 11,000 detainees, a new plan for mass deportations and tent cities, a law that jails not only uncredentialed immigrants but also anyone aiding them, and explicit appeals to racism in the preservation of Israel as a white ethnographic state.

Most of the estimated pool of 62,000 exiles – many in flight from Sudan and Eritrea, paralleling the political crises in the Horn of Africa – have been smuggled across the Sinai from Egypt and then grudgingly given temporary status but, since 2010, no work permits at the Israeli border. They are bused into the country on a one-way ticket and literally dropped off into a marginal existence, often in Tel Aviv. Since the influx accelerated in 2007, about 25,000 have clustered in the lower-income neighborhoods on the city's south side, crammed into apartments where canny landlords have raised the rent on this per-capita boom in vulnerable tenants. Local Israeli Jewish residents have accused them of making their own lives intolerable, due to allegedly relentless physical and sexual assaults, robberies, and public drug and alcohol use.

The caption states: "The aftermath of a Molotov attack on a refugee's kindergarten in south Tel Aviv on April 27, 2012.  Four apartments and a kindergarten were hit with Molotov cocktails during a coordinated night attack."
Such exaggerated and ill-substantiated claims of an African crime spree in Tel Aviv have prompted a recent spike in racialized violence – firebombings and riots as well as physical attacks on both Africans and their anti-racist advocates. In April, after several Eritrean men were suspected of (and later charged with) rape in a nearby parking garage, Molotov cocktails were heaved into a local kindergarten yard, and later an apartment complex. In early May, a major daily newspaper – quoting anonymous police sources – reported that "youth gangs" of African youths rove the city's beaches in search of unattended wallets and bags. In mid-May, Israel's police chief strode through south Tel Aviv's neighborhoods and blamed African migrants for a crime "surge" there, while unnamed officials maintained that 40 percent of criminal activity in greater Tel Aviv was committed by illegal immigrants. In neither case was corroborating data presented – nor when Interior Minister Yishai alleged that rapes by African men were under-reported by Israeli women who were afraid of the "stigma" of purported AIDS exposure.

Then, completing the diseased and hyper-sexualized caricature of the black male African destroying the country from within, Netanyahu issued his warning that "Israel could be overrun by African infiltrators:"

Two days later, on May 22, an anti-migrant march of 1000 Jewish Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv deteriorated into a rampage, in which windows of African-owned cars and storefronts of African-owned businesses were smashed, the stores themselves looted. Black bystanders were chased and beaten (including an Ethiopian Jew to whom apologies immediately were issued after his religious allegiance was established). Anti-racist counter-demonstrators have had their placards shredded and had to be separated by police from an incensed crowd.

These physical attacks have been accompanied by vitriolic verbal assaults on the Africans themselves as well as on the anti-racist activists and refugee-advocacy organizations rallying to the migrants' support. A member of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset), from a centrist party entrenched in Netanyahu's governing coalition, asserted at the May 22 demonstration that "the Sudanese are a cancer on our body." Israeli leftists who objected to the new law that went into effect on June 3 have been labeled as "traitors." Another Knesset member – although prominent in last summer's housing protests – proposed that the human-rights activists themselves should be rounded up and sent to the massive detention camp in the Sinai desert (deliberately designed without air-conditioning).

This proposition is not as rhetorical as it may seem. Africans not considered legitimate refugees now face up to three years in prison, their advocates up to five years. Since Sunday, Netanyahu has ordered the swift deportation of Africans seen as economic opportunists. Exceptions will be made for Sudanese, Eritreans, and Somalians, who will not be returned en masse to the brutal conditions that drove their exile – instead transported out of Israel communities and into tent camps. Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told a court last week that it is now safe to repatriate South Sudanese, despite ongoing cross-border flare-ups with Sudan.

Once the Africans are back on the Nubian side of the fence, the Palestinians are fully encircled by the West Bank separation barrier, and the human-rights activists are sweating in their cells, the dark demographic plume so threatening to Israeli identity and security apparently will be contained. And Israel's pretense of being an open democratic state will be that much more revealed.


  1. Such a distrubing yet illuminting piece. This side of Israel is never revealed or analyzed by mainstream media. Thank you for your contribution and thoughtful critiques.

  2. Africa has a population of nearly 1 billion people, headed towards 1.5 billion by 2050, the majority of which are the poorest of the poor anywhere on the planet. Africa's problems such as 700 million people living without electricity supplies or running water or sewage treatment etc. are just getting worse, not better.

    Given that Africa has a land area of 30 million sq. kilometers, it makes complete sense that Israel, a tiny desert country of 20,000 sq. kilometers, 1500 times smaller than Africa, with no natural resources and not even enough water for its own population should be looked to to solve Africa's problems by absorbing millions of economic migrants.

    Clearly this makes perfect sense.

  3. Thanks Jean for bring out the dark side of Israel. What a powerful piece. I cannot believe that such an inhuman act is been done to people running for their life and yet nothing is been said or reported by the Media. We need to remind Israel that racism is unaccepted. All human beings have rights that need to be protected by all nations This cruelty is belong imagination.


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