Israeli leader of movement to expel African asylum-seekers driven by fear of miscegenation

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From David Sheen’s “Racism in Israel” published on open Democracy:

According to accepted wisdom – or more accurately, received wisdom from Israeli public relations officials – most Jewish Israelis don’t abhor non-Jewish Arabs for racial reasons, they only resent them for violently resisting Jewish mass immigration to Palestine. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often portrayed in the American media as a contest over land and other precious resources, but not so often as a battle to defend the Jewish genome. 

But reports of anti-African race riots in Tel Aviv in May finally broke western media silence over one of the most contentious issues facing the state of Israel in recent years: the arrival of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers from sub-Saharan Africa. Foreign observers who long thought that the conflicts in this country take place only over resources, not race, are being forced to reconsider their assumptions in the face of overtly racist Israeli discourse about Africans.

Zionist analysts have been at pains to explain away the physical attacks on non-Jewish people of colour, which have become an almost daily occurrence since May. Even harder for hasbarists to excuse is the widespread popular support for the anti-gentile vigilante violence. An Israel Democracy Institute survey revealed that in the days following the May 23 attack on Africans, over half of Jewish Israelis agreed with a ruling party lawmaker’s statement that they are “a cancer”, and a third supported the pogrom.

Why all the anti-African hatred? Why did a thousand Israelis swarm the streets of Tel Aviv, attacking any dark-skinned person in sight, including women and children? Some Israelis oppose the presence of the asylum-seekers because they compete with working-class Israelis for the same blue-collar jobs. Others are upset that many of them are not gainfully employed, and are a drain on local resources, resulting in a reduction in the quality of life for the already-impoverished neighbourhoods where they find shelter. 

But these are hardly the core reasons of the conflict. Both of these grievances could be easily addressed if Israel simply abided by its own obligations to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and issued work permits to the asylum-seekers. If employers had to pay Africans equal wages, they would have no comparative advantage over Israeli workers and the labour field would level out. And if all Africans were allowed to work legally, most would, and become contributing members of Israeli society.

Although mainstream media pundits wouldn’t know it, since most of them only just discovered the African issue, it isn’t the economics of immigration that arouses the ire of most Israelis – it’s their race. The Tel Aviv neighbourhoods that have seen the largest influx of asylum-seekers in recent years were demanding the expulsion of all Africans half a decade ago, when their numbers were only a trickle and their economic impact on these communities was next to nil.

From the start, Israeli antagonism to non-Jewish Africans has had a racial basis: specifically, the fierce opposition to inter-racial relationships between Jewish Israeli women and non-Jewish African men. As anti-African activists raise the supposed spectre of mixed marriages and bi-racial children, several Tel Aviv satellite cities have held anti-miscegenation rallies in the last couple of years. In one of these towns, Ashkelon, the racist rally was organized in front of the city hall by the Deputy Mayor. 

Do Israelis who oppose race-mixing realize the irony of their actions? At one of these Tel Aviv-area demonstrations against mixed-race romances in December 2010 in Bat Yam, Jewish National Front party leader Baruch Marzel told Israel’s Channel 7 video news: “If this is racism, then the Jewish state is racism, the Sochnut [Jewish Agency] that works against assimilation is also racism, the Torah is racism, and the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund] that sells land only to Jews is racism, and everything is racism.”

Read the whole article here.

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