Nativism, Racism And Riots In Tel Aviv

Demagogical politicians and nativism are nothing new.

Across the world from the Balkans to the resurgence of nativism in North America, it is a common political current. However, we are now seeing the consequences of nativism in Israel, race riots.

Noam Sheizaf reports:

“More than 1,000 Israelis protested this evening (Wednesday) against the African refugees and asylum seekers who have settled in South Tel Aviv in recent years. According to eyewitnesses’ reports, the crowd grew angry and ultimately violent, following speeches from Knesset members, including members of the government coalition.

It was one of the most violent protests Tel Aviv has known in recent years. Confrontations were continuing between police and Jewish citizens at around 10:30 p.m. local time.

Dozens of protesters tried to move from the Hatikva neighborhood, where the rally was held, towards Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood, where most African asylum seekers and migrants live. They were stopped by police. Protesters attacked a car passing by carrying African passengers, smashing its windows. Shops associated with the African community were vandalized. [UPDATE: As of midnight, activists in Hatikva are still reporting looting and occasional attacks on immigrants.] “

Sheizaf’s later piece and the role of politicians:

“Regarding crime, it’s important to note that refugees are not allowed to work in Israel. Hundreds of refugees, most of them men, are homeless, and can be seen roaming the streets at nights, and not only in the south. On several occasions when I was out late at night in the last couple of months I was approached by Africans asking for food, money or cigarettes. There is no denying that desperation among the refugees is on the rise, and so are the reports in the media on violent crimes committed by them. The emphasis is on “reports,” because numbers from the last few months are unavailable, and according to previous statistics, the crime rate among asylum seekers was much lower than among the Jewish population.

I should also say that my personal feeling is that the media hype regarding the situation in south Tel Aviv was much stronger than what I have actually felt there. I don’t live in Shapira, but both my brother and sister do, and I spend quite a bit of time there. I never felt threatened and I thought that the headlines in the Israeli media – both Haaretz and Maariv wrote last week that the atmosphere in the area is “on the verge of explosion” – were an exaggeration. The media certainly played its part in promoting xenophobia and fear of the Africans (the common term in Israel is not “asylum seekers” or refugees, but rather “infiltrators,” the same term used to describe Palestinians who tried to return their lands and homes in the 1950s, and were regarded by the government as potential terrorists).

More than the media, politicians are to blame for last night. According to most reports, the protest was initially very quiet, and local residents who spoke at the event weren’t as harsh on the Africans as the Knesset members – none of them live in south Tel Aviv, by the way – who took the stage right after them.

MK Miri Regev from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party called the Africans “a cancer.” MK Danny Danon (Likud) said that they had established an enemy state, with Tel Aviv as its capital. MK Ben-Ari (Ichud Leumi, a national-religious party) called for every one of them to be imprisoned and deported. Ben-Ari used to be a member of Meir Kahane’s organization, which was banned in Israel and placed on the U.S. State Department’s terror list. He is now serving in the Israeli parliament. There was even a representative of the so-called moderate Kadima party – MK Ronit Tirosh – who also said that all of the African infiltrators need to be deported.

All of those MKs know all too well that deporting the refugees is forbidden according to international commitments Israel has taken upon itself. Coalition members speak out against their own policy: after all, the government could deport the refugees and pay the diplomatic price for it. But it effectively chooses to leave them here while inciting the public against them.”

Update 1: Peace Now has a statement on these attacks.

Update 2: Ha’aretz has coverage.

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