You might have thought that since the Israeli Supreme Court banned Jewish Power Leader Michael Ben Ari from running for parliament, that the Israeli parliament was free of the worst kind of racists. You would be wrong.
Michael Ben Ari has a self-proclaimed disciple – May Golan, who has made incitement against African refugees her flagship mission. “I’m proud to be a racist!”, she shouted to the crowd of anti-refugee supporters in 2012 (see David Sheen’s video here). Golan explained her rationale for being racist:
Outside my house I see shit and spit and psychopaths! You can see it in their eyes, people who just want to kill me. But nobody believes us. We’re racists. We’re racists because we want to preserve our lives and our sanity. So I am proud to be a racist!! (Shouts from crowd: “And its our right to be racist!”). I’m proud to be racist. If I’m racist to preserve my life, then I’m proud!
And Golan is not even on the Jewish Power list, she’s on the more mainstream Likud. And she’s been a darling of mainstream Likud leaders despite, or perhaps because of, her racist bile.
In a later anti-refugee rally in south Tel-Aviv (also 2012), Golan is seen trying to tear down tents which the municipality had permitted for sheltering refugees from the cold winter (notice also Michael Ben Ari and his group walking around there). When the mob is confronted by a leftist activist (passing by on her bicycle), Golan hurls sexist epithets at her: “She wants cock in the face, the ‘infiltrators’ [Africans] you help will give you cock in return!”
Golan’s incitement is echoed by mainstream leaders and most of Israeli Jewish society
Golan’s type of incitement was also aided by mainstream Likud leaders such as Culture Minister Miri Regev, who called African refugees “a cancer in our body”. Shockingly, over half of Jewish Israelis were polled to be in agreement with her precise statement. Less than two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Miri Regev went on a tour of south Tel-Aviv, on a self-proclaimed “mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents”, as Netanyahu claimed. The incitement against African refugees became such a mainstream right-wing call, that also Labor leader Avi Gabbay, in his constant attempts to pander to the right, sold out refugees as ‘infiltrators’, in support of a Netanayhu-promoted bill to deport them (to the dismay of some of Gabbay’s party members). Last year, during municipal elections, Likud race-baiting ads came up in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, saying it’s about “us or them”, featuring interchangeably African refugees as well as Muslim citizens.
Collecting signatures against refugees at first day of work as lawmaker
Two days ago, Golan boasted about her new job as lawmaker, and about how she used it productively, to collect signatures for expelling African refugees. In a Facebook post, featuring photos of lawmakers signing her petition, Golan writes (in Hebrew):
On my first day at the Knesset, I am proud to conduct two important activities which are bound in my worldview. The first is my first bill suggestion concerning the overturning-clause [allowing the Knesset to overturn a Supreme Court ruling against legislation] which will strengthen the governance of the Knesset the legislative authority. The second is the founding of the Lobby for the Expulsion of Illegal Infiltrators from the State of Israel. It cannot be, that in a state wherein building a porch without a permit is considered criminal procedure, infiltration into the state borders would pass without dissent. Today everyone is already clear about there being no war-refugees amongst us. I will work with all my might for the realization of law enforcement in the State of Israel and expulsion of the illegal infiltrators from the borders of the state.
The fight against the Supreme Court is a typical flagship issue of the right and has featured prominently in the rhetoric of people such as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who alas has not made it back into the coming Knesset (because her new party with Naftali Bennett ended up just below the electoral threshold). When the Supreme Court ruled to limit the state’s ability to imprison refugees indefinitely in 2017, Shaked remarked:
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.
And that remark portrays how this story is not an isolated one ‘just’ about anti-black racism. It’s very much to do with Zionism. It goes almost without saying, that Israel has a very welcoming policy to new immigrants, refugees or not – when they are Jewish. Because that fulfils the Zionist goal.
The Zionist connection here was expressed clearly in 2011 by then Minister of Interior Eli Yishai. He posited that the mere presence of the refugees was an “existential threat” and vowed to defend the “Jewish majority”. “Each and every one of them will return to their countries”, he said.
Torture and death at sea
It has been widely known that the deportation of these refugees (to third countries) has resulted in torture and death at sea, but Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan opined that “they don’t need to be extended a helping hand or be pulled out of the sea and saved from drowning.”
And that is an honest expression of the actual and general Israeli attitude towards these African refugees. Most Jewish Israelis just don’t care about them, because they think they are “cancer”, and who cares if cancer drowns.
These refugees, numbering about 39,000 and coming mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have served as scapegoats for the Israeli ultranationalist frenzy. Incitement against them has served populist nationalist ends. Last year, after international pressure, Israel and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR announced an agreement to send about half of the refugees to Western countries while allowing others to remain in Israel under temporary visas and find jobs. This elicited a howl of protest from right-wing allies of Benjamin Netanyahu, who then canceled the agreement only hours after it was signed.
These refugees are considered prima facie refugees by most of the international community, but Israel insists on considering them ‘infiltrators’. They are thus not protected from the racist government whims. Since 2012 they were technically allowed to apply for asylum, where the burden of responsibility lies upon them to prove that they are personally persecuted in their home country. And the odds of approval are against them: fewer than 1 percent of such applications have been accepted by the Israeli government.
UNHCR, in its position paper on the status of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals defined as ‘infiltrators’ by Israel, states:
4. Furthermore, applications for asylum filed by Eritrean and Sudanese “infiltrators” are not processed fairly and effectively. The recognition rate for Eritrean and Sudanese nationalities is less than 1%. Most asylum claims by Eritreans are rejected on the ground that desertion or draft evasion from the Eritrean national (including military) service does not entitle them to refugee status. Asylum requests by Sudanese from Darfur, Blue Nile and Kordofan regions have been pending for some years.
5. Acknowledging the protection needs of the majority of the Eritrean and Sudanese population defined as ‘infiltrators’, which are akin to the protection needs of refugees, UNHCR considers them to be in a refugee-like situation and therefore as falling under its mandate. This approach is based on the fundamental notion that the absence of formal recognition by a state of refugee status does not in itself preclude its obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (hereinafter: “the 1951 Refugee Convention”). As long as a person fulfills the substantial elements of the refugee definition of the 1951 Refugee Convention, formal recognition is merely declaratory of an existing status.
Israel could be protecting these refugees, it could be normalizing their status. The Brookings Institute also suggests that they could receive a Temporary Protected Status:
Yet, a good compromise is still possible: Israel can provide all Eritrean and Sudanese refugees with temporary protected status (TPS). This would allow them to remain in the country, work, and receive basic social benefits (in fact, a few of them who formally requested for asylum eventually received a similar temporal status). TPS does not have to result in permanent residences; authorities can review the TPS every so often and revoke it if it becomes safe for him or her to return home. A person’s TPS could be also conditional on keeping a clean criminal record.
But the refugees are in this limbo, which makes them vulnerable to racists such as May Golan, and these people influence actual policy, as we have seen. These people simply want the “infiltrators” out.
Now, May Golan is no longer a mere street-level rabble inciting hooligan. She is a lawmaker.