|Guest Writer Jean Riesman|
Too Black for Israel
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."|
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:"
[The] phenomenon of illegal infiltrators from Africa is extremely serious and threatens Israel's social fabric and national security… [I]f 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.
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.