by: David Harris-Gershon on May 24th, 2012 | 29 Comments »
Southern Tel Aviv is home to a number of blighted and struggling neighborhoods – areas where Israel’s income inequalities and economic disparities are acutely on display in the shadow of the city’s high rises. And it is here – in the neighborhood of Shapira – where large numbers of African refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea have sought shelter from forces much more dire than poverty.
On Wednesday evening, that shelter was shattered by a 1,000-strong protest which turned violent and, ultimately, into a race riot targeting those seeking relief from violence.
How did this happen?
The short answer begins by examining the protest, which was organized by Likud activists and attended by several Knesset members, who (for obvious political reasons) stood before the masses and blamed their hardships on African refugees with incendiary catch phrases.
Addressing the “infiltration problem,” Knesset Member Miri Regev (Likud) criticized the Israeli government for not sending the African refugees from whence they came, calling them “a cancer in our body.” Danny Danon (Likud) followed up his incendiary speech by posting on Facebook, “Israel is at war. An enemy state of infiltrators was established in Israel, and its capital is south Tel Aviv.” And Michael Ben-Ari, a former member of the racist Kach party, incited the crowd by tapping both into their economic despair and xenophobia, warning them that the Africans would take all available jobs and leave everyone else with nothing.
The crowd, already gathered to vent their rage, in part, at the African community – blaming them for a rise in crime and the theft of opportunity – suddenly turned violent and streamed into the Shapira neighborhood, attacking Africans on the street, in cars, smashing storefronts belonging to migrants and vandalizing shops.
The violence and rampaging through Shapira happened spontaneously, as though a tinder box had suddenly been set alight by a flint’s sparking surface. And Israeli parliamentarians are to blame for creating that spark, for setting alight a crowd already on the edge of combustion.
Regarding the refugee community in Israel targeted last night, Noam Sheizaf writes:
According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there are presently some 60,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. Most entered the country by foot through its southern border. While they are termed “infiltrators” by the government, some 85 percent are from Eritrea and Sudan, to which Israel has agreed until now not to return them in light of the situations in those countries. They fall under a form of group protection from deportation, but their individual refugee claims are not processed.
A few recent crimes against Israelis that were linked to the African community have recently received considerable attention in the local media. They led to a wave of protest and declarations by politicians against the refugees and asylum seekers. MK Ofir Akunis, a member of Likud and a Netanyahu proxy, is set to promote a Knesset bill which will criminalize Israelis who employ, drive or give shelter to refugees.
In addition to a deeply-rooted racism that exists within segments of Israeli society and the continued dehumanizing of minorities, last night’s race riot also occurred because of corrupt economic policies and the rising gap between the rich and poor in Israel – a situation which has left many teetering on the economic precipice. Without minimizing the racist motivations behind what occurred last night, a root cause is partially the same root social justice activists targeted last summer when they crippled Tel Aviv, chanting, “The people demand social justice.”
Last night, poverty-stricken Israelis focused their rage (and racism) on a community of dark-skinned scapegoats. And several Israeli leaders were only too happy to help an angry mob push them off the cliff.
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