Mondoweiss

‘Nazi stuff’: The Israeli government takes on African refugees

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri

Following Israel’s Supreme Court decision last week, limiting the state’s ability to imprison African asylum seekers indefinitely if they do not accept deportation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Culture Minister went to visit southern Tel Aviv in order to “give it back to the Israeli residents.”

“We are here on a mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents”, Netanyahu said.

Following the court decision, Netanyahu promised to find other ways of dealing with the “infiltrators” (as the court also calls them):

“We’ll have to enact new laws that will enable us … to send the illegal infiltrators out of our country”, he said. 

The court ruling has caused considerable outrage from the right. It brought Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to drop all Zionist masks, and say:

“Zionism should not – and I’m saying here that it will not – continue to bow its head to a system of individual rights interpreted in a universal manner”. 

Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy summarized her claim:

“Thus Shaked believes, as do so many around the world, that Israel is built on foundations of injustice and therefore must be defended from the hostile talk of justice. How else can the repulsion to discussing rights be explained? Individual rights are important, she said, but not when they are disconnected from ‘the Zionist challenges.’ Right again: The Zionist challenges indeed stand in contradiction to human rights.” 

So what were Netanyahu and Regev doing in south Tel Aviv in their recent “mission”? They were inciting against the refugees for political gain, making them the scapegoat for a general neglect of the area, that has nothing to do with refugees as such. 

Regev has already called refugees a “cancer in our body”, during a pogrom on refugees in 2012. Now, she applied a reversal of victim roles:  whilst saying that the refugees are “not refugees” but rather “infiltrators”, she went further, to say that

“[T]he residents of south Tel Aviv are the ones who became refugees in their own country”.

Netanyahu incited against the refugees saying they were “lawless infiltrators”. That is, he implied that they are simply all criminals:

“Together with the foreign, culture and interior ministers we will enforce a much stronger enforcement vis-á-vis employers, the lawless infiltrators and everything we need to do to increase enforcement”, he said.

As for the interior minister, Aryeh Deri, he already expressed his ‘care’ for the residents of Tel Aviv versus the refugees, saying, “We have to care for the citizens of Israel, the residents of south Tel Aviv and other cities where residents’ lives are unlivable.” Yesterday he added to this, further accentuating the ‘Israeli victimhood’. From Haaretz:

“When you see the atmosphere there, on a pleasant day with everyone outdoors, it’s nice to see,” said Dery. “But when you look at the buildings and streets and you know what Neve Sha’anan, Levinsky and HaGdud HaIvri Streets and the park used to look like, everything has been wiped out. You hardly see any Israeli in the dark hours and it wasn’t even that late. You see those families and their children. When you hear police reports on what goes on there at night and you realize that Tel Aviv residents still live there, Israelis and Jews who found a place for themselves there. Why are they to blame?”

The official bigotry toward refugees has not escaped some Israelis. “This is Nazi stuff that creates the tension and hatred against them,” said Itamar Zigler, a 40-year old local resident. “I think it’s just for political gain,” he added (as noted by Jerusalem Post).

“What happens is that very angry and frustrated people from these neighborhoods – whose frustration I do understand, are pointing fingers in the wrong direction, which is at people who fled violent countries,” Zigler said. He added that the refugees were not the problem: “Before the Africans came, we had the same problems: pollution, junkies and prostitution.”

Inbal Egoz, who runs an NGO called Power to the Community (she was born and raised in the area), said that “the government and media talk about all the crimes the refugees are supposedly committing here, but they are not to blame for the situation. When the refugees first came, the government sent them to Tel Aviv because south Tel Aviv is the backyard of Israel. This area was neglected for many years before they came, but the government wants to make it look like they are to blame for the conditions here, and that if we deport them everything will be fine, and that’s not true”, she said.

Yes, it’s an awfully familiar pattern, isn’t it? Where have we experienced such scapegoating before? This is Nazi stuff.

P.S. I remember southern Tel Aviv very well from my childhood. The old bus central station in its midst, covering a rather large area, was replaced with a new one near to it (opened in 1993), but the old station remained, and it still is more or less what it was – perhaps the porn magazine industry and the closed pornographic cinema “Merkaz” (meaning “center”) have suffered from the advent of internet, but otherwise the drugs and prostitution are there, and in general, Southern Tel-Aviv has been neglected for many decades by the municipality. But this has been going on long before the recent waves of refugees from African countries.