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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Anti-migrant mobs in Israel incited by Likud MKs


I rarely write anything about Israel. Nor do I get involved in I/P debates. That does not mean I have no interest in that part of the world-I simply spend most of my international focus elsewhere. But for many years I have followed the fate of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. So when I stumbled across a mention of Eritreans in Israel in a stray headline, I was curious, and followed up. One link led to another-almost all of them  either in The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, British or Canadian papers:

Racist Riots in Tel Aviv Show A New Level of Intolerance in Israel

Israelis attack African migrants during protest against refugees

Tel Aviv mobs attack black migrants

I found this photo slide show…

There were some strong op-ed pieces decrying the violence.

Senseless acts of violence

Wednesday night saw the culmination of weeks of national and local incitement against the African refugee/asylum-seeker population in Israel. Hundreds of local residents and settlers from the West Bank settlements rampaged through south Tel Aviv neighborhoods attacking Africans and smashing African businesses.

A Congolese activist was thrown to the ground and beaten after leaving her house to try and talk to demonstrators. The woman, a well-known activist back home in the Congo, who had held talks before she had to flee the country with Nelson Mandela, said she “felt lucky to have escaped with her life” after being set upon by a crowd of dozens. Earlier in the evening at the start of the demonstration MK Miri Regev (Likud) said “the Sudanese were a cancer in our body.” And MK Danny Danon (Likud), head of the “Deportation Now” movement, called for the immediate removal of all Africans from Israel. This is the latest in a long line of incitement by our elected officials, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai, MK Michael Ben- Ari (Habayit Hayehudi) and extreme settler leaders including Baruch Marzel. Human Rights groups have begun working on whether there is a case for incitement against them.

Approximately 60,000 asylum seekers have entered Israel since 2005. 80 percent of the asylum seekers are from Eritrea and 5-10% come from across Sudan. Since 2005, less than 20 have received refugee status. Huge pressure has been placed on poor neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv and peripheral cities in the South of the country, where the communities are religious, conservative and very wary of a large foreign community suddenly living alongside them.

I found some video on youtube, but almost no mention in U.S. headlines.  

African immigrants drive a car whose windows were shattered by Israeli protesters taking part in a rally against the government’s handling of the flow of African migrants into Israel, in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2012


I am aware that in many countries around the world there is unrest, push-back against immigrants (with or without papers) which carries with it racist or ethnocentric baggage. No one in the US can ignore our own boondoggle and increasing right-wing attacks on brown people here-documented, undocumented or simply U.S. citizens who happen to speak Spanish. But that does not mean I can ignore what is happening in Israel, nor should I. My parents spent many years contributing to planting trees there when I was a child.  

And so I read with dismay the words of frightened people there.

‘Why did they smash our businesses? We’re scared.’

I was heartened to find Israeli’s speaking out against this.

Incitement in Tel Aviv ‘should disturb every Jew’

senior policeman Moshe Mizrahi warns against inciting hatred at anti-Immigrant Tel Aviv rally.

During the event, Likud MK Danny Danon, chairman of the “Deportation Now” movement, called the migrants “a national plague” and said that “we must deport them immediately before it’s too late.” He added that “the State of Israel is engaged in a war against an enemy state composed of infiltrators.” Fellow Likud MK Miri Regev described the illegal migrants as a “cancer.” “This is really disturbing to any Zionist and Jew,” said Mizrahi. “It is populism of the lowest kind. They are exploiting the real distress of residents. And I say this without [trying to minimize] the urgency of finding a solution to the migrant problem, which is severe.” He added that “these same Knesset members belong to the helpless government that abandoned the residents of south Tel Aviv. Now they are fueling the flames instead of focusing on the role they were elected to carry out, finding a tangible solution to the problem.”

Attempting to portray migrants as rapists and thieves is also a dangerous distortion of the facts, Mizrahi argued, saying that Sudanese and Eritrean migrants were not mentioned once during a series of violent crimes carried out by Israelis earlier this month.

I wasn’t surprised to see that some members of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) were ranting and spewing hate.  Why should I be?  We have our own hate-spewers in Congress. There as here, progressives are calling for investigations.

Peace Now Calls for ‘Incitement’ Probe of Anti-Violence MKs

The leftist Peace Now organization is accusing three MKS of incitement for attending a protest against illegal immigrants in south Tel Aviv.

The U.S. has issued an opinion, but covered in Israel, not here. I found links to U.N. reports as well.

US criticizes Israeli approach to asylum seekers

The report, entitled 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, stated that though the government has ceased the practice of immediately returning African asylum seekers arriving via Egypt, it “continued to deny many asylum seekers individual refugee status determinations, which impacted their ability to work or receive basic social services, including health care.”

Citing United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, the report says that out of 4,603 new asylum applications submitted during 2011, the government rejected 3,692, approved one and 6,412 remained pending. The US also viewed negatively government officials’ use of the term “infiltrators” to refer to asylum seekers, as well as officials who directly associated asylum seekers with the rise in crime, disease and terrorism. Interior Minister Eli Yishai was specifically flagged as an instigator.

This was not a first incident.  This footage is from last year.

Levinsky Park, December 11, 2011

Then I found this documentary.  It is not short.  

Racism Report: Africans in Israel

Report for the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – submitted January 30, 2012

And finally I found one of our own-a blogger who had both video and narrative which was extremely disturbing.

Thoughts on an attack by a Jewish mob

Two days ago, my girlfriend and I were attacked by a mob of proud Jews in south Tel Aviv. Still trying to understand why.

I went to a demonstration led by MK Michael Ben-Ari two days ago (Tuesday), and was joined by my girlfriend, Galina. Ben-Ari, a Kahanist, was inciting the crowd against the African refugees in a distinctly anti-Semitic manner, peppering his talk with incessant references to excrement and urine. At some point, Galina couldn’t take it any longer, and shouted something back. Within minutes we were surrounded by an angry mob of about 20 people, composed mostly of women, who hurled curses at her. Someone pulled out a tear gas canister and waved it at her face.

Racist and sexual slurs filled the air repeatedly. Time and time again, people expressed the wish she would be raped by Sudanese, and asked her if she was bedding them. A boy, between 10 and 11 years old, screamed at her point blank that what she needs is a “nigger’s cock.” David Sheen videotaped much of it. For my part, I was busy trying to pull her out of there, and pushing away the hands in her way – there were plenty of them. There was also spitting. At a certain stage, when Ben-Ari and his travelling circus went on their way, a cop wended his way to Galina, and whispered to her that the police were pulling away, and she should, too.

He is no outsider. His bio is interesting.

I am Yossi Gurvitz, a 40-year old journalist, blogger and photographer.

I write for several Israeli publications, including the influential financial daily Calcalist and the Nana portal. In the past, I’ve been deputy editor of Nana News, and with Itamar Shaaltiel edited its 2006 Knesset elections section.

I was raised as an Orthodox Jew, graduated from a Yeshiva (Nehalim), but saw the light and turned atheist at about the age of 17. After the mandatory three years in the military, much more strictly enforced in 1988 than now, I studied history and classics, earning a BA degree, and studying three additional years towards an MA, but abandoned the project in favor of earning my living as a journalist. [It seemed a good idea at the time.]

I will be reading him. I hope you will too.

Will be interesting to read your comments, thoughts-especially from those of you who are more familiar with this situation than I am.  


  1. DeniseVelez

    Smashing windows and terrorizing people is unacceptable in a country which was founded out of a history of unspeakable terror.  

  2. Strange how much Schwartz comes to my mind.  Schwartz was a Jewish crow from Bernard Malamud who tried to live with a Jewish family and despite trying to be a good bird the Dad tries to kill him.  They say the story is about how Jews try and hurt themselves, but I think it expands all the way to the entire human condition.  

  3. and takes so little to bring it out. Africans are always a ready target, but it isn’t limited only to them. If no Africans are available to hate then another group will be anointed as “the other.” Nor does the out party that is the object of hate have to be an immigrant community. Look at the Bosnians vs Serbs in Europe, Tutsi vs Hutu in Africa, Cherokee vs Iroquois and Navaho vs Apache before Europeans came to North America.

    If everyone in the world had the same skin color, hair color, and eye color then people would learn be taught to hate others based on the shape of their ears or noses or the size of their feet. I’m afraid I see no end to the hatred for a long, long, long time to come.

  4. have you written anything on The New York Civil Liberties Union Stop-and-Frisk 2011 report? I’d be interested in your take on it.

    Some of the findings listed in the report:

    The report revealed that NYPD officers stopped and questioned people 685,724 times in 2011, a 600 percent increase from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first year in office. Fully 90 percent of those stopped were innocent. About 87 percent were black or Hispanic.

    Among the NYCLU report’s findings:

    * In 33 precincts, blacks and Hispanics accounted for more than 90 percent of stops. In the 10 precincts with black and Latino populations of 14 percent or less (such as the 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village), black and Latino New Yorkers accounted for more than 70 percent of stops in six of those precincts.

    * Young black and Hispanic men were the targets of a hugely disproportionate number of stops. Though they account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011. The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406). Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.

    * Weapons were only found in 1.9 percent of all stops. This, despite the fact that officers are only supposed to conduct stops when officers reasonably suspect that a person has a weapon that could endanger their safety.

    * Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be frisked than whites, but less likely to be found with weapons.

  5. Strummerson

    I think, however, its contemporary importance resides in a slightly more local context than the historical background of the declaration of Israel as a Jewish State.

    1. The whole ‘problem’ of ‘foreign workers’ goes directly back to the way access to underpaid Palestinian labor has been curtailed and impeded since the first intifada.  It seems like this is a ‘domestic’ issue as opposed to one linked directly to the conflict, but it is a direct symptom of that conflict.  Caught in the middle is an entire population of people, many of whom are African, born in Israel, first language Hebrew, who have never lived anywhere else and have ambiguous status. It’s fascinating how much the rhetoric parallels the rhetoric regarding undocumented Mexican workers and their children in the US.  Xenophobia?  Check.  Exploit us for our educational and medical resources?  Check.  No respect for our national values and traditions?  Check.  A threat to law and order?  Check.  Yep.  The exploited are accused of being the exploiters.  They are taking our jobs, the ones we don’t want and the pay that is too low for us.  It’s their fault.  Crap.  Makes me want to go full Marx like I haven’t in decades!

    2. The second is more psychological/anthropological/ideological and as such more in Denise’s wheelhouse.  And that has to do with the argument that there is a national-ethinic conflict between Jews and Palestinians that can be contained and does not metastasize into broader racism and xenophobia.  This proves that it can’t.  One cannot live with group fear/hatred against one particular community without the same structural apparatus of engaging others also becoming similarly toxic.   To over-simplify, if one is racist against one community, one will view other communities through the same toxic and anti-ethical lens.  And make no mistake that one of the major inciters, Eli Yishai, MK from Shas, represents religious Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin that has often experienced discrimination.  Instead of standing in solidarity, they answer by deflecting the xenophobia onto Palestinians and African workers.

    3. This occurred on the eve of the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) that commemorates the Revelation at Sinai and the donation of first fruits in the Temple.  The special reading in Synagogue is the Book of Ruth, which takes place during the wheat harvest.  My Rabbi gave a sermon yesterday arguing that this selection isn’t so simplistic or formal.  At the center of the Book of Ruth is the mechanism by which food was made available to the poor during the harvest.  He explained that Rabbinic understandings of these laws emphasize the property owners’ obligation to be physically present at those times during the day when those in need would come and to personally supervise fulfillment of his obligation to support them.  The pairing of this text with the commemoration of the giving of the Torah is supposed to remind us that at its center is the ethic of kindness and our obligations to those with the least among us.  Yet Eli Yishai, in all his piety, uses this occasion to incite violence against the most vulnerable in Israel?

    The toxic  perversities and ironies just proliferate from there.

  6. Strummerson

    is organizing petitions and donations for relief and to step up legal aid for the refugee communities if anyone is interested.  They are a solid organization, international but focused on issues of social justice in Israel.

  7. creamer

    I really have a hard time seeing a light out there. The pictures of youths kicking out windows imediately summons thoughts of brown shirts and pogroms.The need to get elected always seems to lead to somone scapegoating the easiest target. I somtimes wonder if it is the human ego having a need to feel superior. Maybe its just that its easier to be an asshole.

      The next question is how this happens without an official response from Israels Daddy Warbucks.  

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