mobfire – the people want the Africans to be burned
was peddled by both center-left Zionist Union candidate Isaac Herzog and
right-wing Zionist incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu while campaigning ahead of the
March election. Oren
successful efforts to reduce the number of Africans living in territory it
controls must be recognized for what it is: ethnic cleansing.
the last four years, I have compiled an annual list
of the public figures most responsible for Israel’s racist treatment of
list reads as both an indictment of populist opinion-makers and a retrospective
of the assaults on refugees that have taken place in the last 12 months.
9. Yisrael Katz – transport minister
April this year, around 800 refugees drowned
when the boat carrying them sank in the Mediterranean.
African Refugees Leaving Holot Internment Camp
the face of this horrific tragedy, a top Israeli minister chose to revel in the
government’s successful efforts to keep refugees out. Yisrael Katz, a
leading figure in the right-wing Likud party who heads both
ministries for transportation and intelligence and atomic energy, wrote
in a Facebook post:
is having a difficult time dealing with the migrants, and with creating
solutions for this difficult issue. While there are differences between us (the
migrants traveling to Europe must cross a sea while those heading for Israel
have a direct overland connection), you can see the rectitude of our
government’s policy to build a fence on the border with Egypt, which blocks the
job-seeking migrants before they enter Israel. The elections are over — you can
give us some credit now.”
same week that Katz posted his morbid message, it emerged that among a group of
African men who Islamic
State militants in Libya
had executed for not being Muslims were three Eritreans who Israel had
for not being Jews.
Infiltrators is a loaded term that was used to refer to Palestinian refugees, expelled from Palestine who tried to return. Its use with refugees is intended to convey the message that the refugees are ‘as bad as’ the Arabs
a cue from Katz, some Israelis responded to the news over social media with expressions
of joy and calls for more of the same.
8. Ben-Dror Yemini – journalist
Yemini has used his regular column in Israel’s best-selling daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot
to attack Africans, as well as Palestinians and progressive Israeli Jews. This
August, one of his articles may have shattered all previous records for the
depths to which an establishment journalist is willing to descend in support of
Israel’s war on Africans.
it, Yemini argues
that African men should be transferred out of Israeli cities and into desert
detention centers, in order to prevent romantic relationships between them and
Jewish Israeli women, specifically, Black Jewish Israeli women. Yemini notes
that this motive would be rejected as racist if it were stated aloud, so he
advises against raising this point publicly.
that Jews in south Tel
Aviv were paying an “unbearable price” because of the Africans living among
them, he claims that there are arguments for reducing the number of Africans in
city centers that “cannot be presented because they are outside the rules of
Racist riot against refugees
7. Tie: Nissan Ben Hamo and Rafi Ben Shitrit – city
August, after Israel’s
high court ordered the release of African refugees who had been held in the
Holot detention center for more than a year, the government grudgingly agreed
to let them go, but with a condition.
the final days before the deadline decreed by the court, the government issued
documents to 1,200 of those being released, declaring that they were not
permitted to live or work in either Tel Aviv or the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Eritrean refugees mourn their comrade who was killed by a lynch mob in Beersheva bus station
decision to restrict entrance to the two cities which contain the largest
African communities in Israel posed a serious challenge for the released
internees. Barred from accessing their only real support system in Israel —
family and friends — the refugees scrambled to find lodging for the night in
smaller towns where they didn’t have close contacts.
hours of leaving Holot, 20 were arrested in Tel
Aviv for violating the conditions of their release.
Residents in Tel Aviv
protest against African refugees in August. Keren ManorActiveStills
the morning that the first 600 were released from Holot, Nissan Ben Hamo, the
mayor or Arad, wrote on Facebook that he would not permit any of these Africans
to settle in that city. Ben Hamo followed up his tough talk by posting police officers
at entrances to the town with instructions to stop Africans coming in.
Hamo also called upon residents to “maintain alertness” and threatened to
mobilize the entire town to resist the arrival of Africans, potentially with
physical force. He wrote on his Facebook page:
Holot Internment Camp
“If we have to strengthen our
struggle on this issue, I won’t hesitate to call on all residents to join the
fight for the city’s well-being.”
the local authority of Bisan
(Beit Shean), a town in the north of present-day Israel, issued a similar
declaration that it would not permit African refugees to settle there. Rafi Ben
Shitrit, the mayor, urged the
town’s police commander to take “immediate action to prevent illegal
infiltrators from staying in Beit Shean,” insisting that they were “not only
unwanted but dangerous.”
6. Moshe Yaalon – defense minister
August, Israeli soldiers shot and wounded three citizens of African states
attempting to enter Israel from Egypt. When asked about
the incident, the army provided several different accounts of the event that
contradicted one another.
displayed a similar nonchalance about the shooting of an African a few months
October, after a gunman opened fire at the central bus station in the southern
city of Bir al-Saba
(Beer Sheva), killing an Israeli soldier and wounding 11 others, an Israeli
security guard shot
an innocent passerby, Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum.
Israelis at the scene proceeded to kick Zarhum in the face and slam a large
bench onto him as he writhed on the floor, cursing him all the while. The crowd
then blocked medics who tried to evacuate him to the local hospital.
Eritreans mourn in
Tel Aviv on 21 October during a memorial for Haftom Zarhum, who died after he
was shot by an Israeli security guard and beaten by a mob in Bir al-Saba. Oren
killing of Zarhum would seem to be an open and shut case of a murderous hate
crime. His attackers were caught on camera assaulting him.
were even interviewed
on Israel’s Channel 2 and gleefully took credit for stomping Zarhum to death.
week later, one of Zarhum’s attackers returned
to Channel 2 and said that he had no regrets over his role in the incident.
yet, Yaalon’s defense ministry decided
that Zarhum would not be recognized as a victim of terrorism because he entered
Israel “illegally.” Without this status, his surviving family members are not
entitled to any Israeli government compensation.
than two months have passed since Zarhum was killed. No charges have yet been
filed against the men who were responsible for his death.
5. Issac Herzog – opposition leader
one of the ways that Israeli society becomes increasingly racist is when
centrist parties like Labor adopt right-wing rhetoric in order to chase after
recent years, Labor has not played the foil to Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, but instead acceded to almost all of his hawkish proposals.
Instead of standing firm against Israel’s lurch to the right, Labor has
attempted to ply votes away from Likud with right-wing proposals.
tendency has increased ever since Isaac Herzog was
elected to lead the party in November 2013. It has been especially evident in
Herzog’s solid support for Netanyahu’s military campaigns in Gaza and the West
Bank, but also in his support for expelling Africans from Israel.
was not always so. When the Knesset first voted to amend the country’s
“anti-infiltration” law in January 2012 to sanction the roundup, detention and
expulsion of African refugees, Herzog opposed
the Knesset voted to amend the law a second
time in December 2013, Herzog didn’t show up for the vote. And by the time
the Knesset voted to toughen it a third time in December 2014, he voted in favor of the amendment, along
with several other Labor lawmakers.
May 2012, Herzog wrote an opinion piece, challenging
arguments by human rights groups that Eritreans in Israel deserved protection
March 2015, Herzog repeated
in an attempt to peel anti-African votes away from Netanyahu on the eve of the
Israeli national elections, saying, “We need to negotiate with Eritrea on the
return of the Eritreans back to Eritrea.”
year, Labor led
a successful effort to abolish the Knesset’s committee on foreign workers,
one of the few forums in which the concerns of refugees could receive a hearing
September 2015, Labor publicly complained that Netanyahu’s government has not
done nearly enough to expel Africans from the country. In a public statement,
Herzog’s Labor Party wholeheartedly adopted the far-right’s propaganda points, insisting
without any basis that most refugees in Israel have no valid claim to refugee
crisis of the refugees from Syria is not similar to the issue of the
infiltrators from Africa who are mostly migrant workers,” the statement read. “If only Bibi’s government had created immigration laws, it would be possible
to send back to their country those who are in Israel for their welfare and for
work. But the Likud government is only good at talking, and it is responsible
for the troubles of the residents of south Tel Aviv.”
4. Ayelet Shaked – justice minister
her first term as a Knesset member, from 2013 to 2015, Ayelet Shakedheaded
the parliamentary “lobby to return the infiltrators to their countries,” a
group dedicated to expelling all African refugees from Israel.
her second term, Shaked was appointed justice minister, a position she has not
shied away from using to advance the lobby’s objectives.
time Israel’s high court has struck down amendments to the “anti-infiltration”
law as a violation of the country’s basic laws, right-wing lawmakers have raged
against the judicial decisions and plotted to neuter the court’s ability to
this end, Shaked introduced
a bill in the Knesset to limit the high court’s power to overturn laws. And as
judges entered the eleventh hour of deliberations over the Knesset’s third
amendment to the “anti-infiltration law” this year, Shaked began to upload
videos to the Internet which purported to show African refugees in a negative
expressed a desire to pressure the judges into issuing a ruling that would
leave the Africans under lock and key.
hours, Shaked removed
one of the videos she had uploaded after it was pointed out to her that the
footage had been filmed in Turkey,
under threat of losing some of their powers, the high court judges agreed to
let the government’s third amendment stand, with the caveat
that refugees could only be detained for a year.
that her victory was only partial, Shaked has begun to examine ways of
filing criminal charges against Africans who enter Israel.
3. Gilad Erdan – public security minister
During Gilad Erdan’s
brief term as interior minister, he secured
the passage of the third amendment to the “anti-infiltration” law that enabled
the incarceration of Africans in desert detention centers.
the new Netanyahu government, Erdan heads the information, strategic affairs
and public security ministries.
before taking on his new roles, Erdan decided
that any African who did not have a refugee status application pending must
return to Africa, or be imprisoned indefinitely if they refused.
July, an Israeli court threw
out an appeal by human rights groups to quash this draconian directive.
report by two groups working with refugees in Israel found that some
of the Sudanese nationals that Israel had sent back to Sudan were being
tortured by government forces upon their return.
jailed in Holot desert prison camp pray after eating a meal breaking the Ramadan
fast in July. Oren
the remainder of 2015, Erdan’s attacks on refugees consisted not of legal
injunctions, but rather of racist incitement.
April, a massive earthquake shook Nepal. This tragic event
was mainly a cause for consternation in Israel because the country is a popular
destination for Israeli tourists, and also a popular source of surrogate
mothers to bring
babies to term for gay Israeli couples.
serving as interior minister, Erdan responded rapidly to the quake by ordering
the airlift of Israeli citizens out of the danger zone, and to also bring along
a small number of local women who were in the final stages of pregnancy with
on a popular television news show to discuss the development, Erdan emphasized
that the Nepalese women’s presence in the country was “temporary.”
won’t convert them [to Judaism] and let them stay here,” he said.
show’s host retorted sarcastically, “Of course, after the birth they will
obviously end up in Holot,” referring to Israel’s desert detention center for
months later, after Erdan had already left his post at the interior ministry,
that the true purpose of the third amendment to the “anti-infiltration” law was
to incarcerate Africans in order to put pressure on them to leave Israel.
public security minister in the current government, Erdan has used news of
Islamic State’s activities in Africa as a pretext to call for tightening the
screws even further on refugees in Israel.
evidence, he has warned
that African refugees could be Islamic State recruits, casting them as “a real
security risk.” Erdan has prodded Netanyahu’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau into
considering some African refugees as terrorists.
2. Silvan Shalom – interior minister
Israel, the person with the most influence over the lives of refugees is the
interior minister, responsible for deciding who is and who isn’t allowed to
enter the country. For the bulk of 2015, that person was Likud legislator Silvan Shalom.
came as no surprise when Shalom maintained the anti-African policies of his
predecessors. At least as far back as 2011, Shalom publicly identified refugees
as a “threat.” At that time, when citizens of African states accounted for 13
percent of the population of the southern city of Eilat, Shalom, then minister
for development of the Naqab
(Negev) and Galilee
the building of a border fence to keep Africans out of Israel.
fence is critical for the defense of the city of Eilat from terror cells and of
course from huge waves of infiltrators flooding the city,” Shalom said.
Shalom’s hardline stance came as no shock, the level of anti-Black racism that
emanated from his own household managed to exceed the expectations of some
a month into his term as interior minister, his wife, the broadcaster Judy Shalom
Nir Mozes, publicly insulted
the US president in a reductionist and racist tweet: “Do u know what Obama
Coffee is? Black and weak.”
August, Shalom decreed
that any African refugee freed from Israel’s desert detention centers by a high
court order would henceforth be forbidden from living or working in either Tel
Aviv or Eilat, turning those cities into “sundown towns.”
Israeli cities have long operated as de facto sundown towns. Palestinian
citizens of Israel are harassed and run out of these cities once the sun sets,
ostensibly in order to prevent romances between Jews and people of other
some of the groups who chase non-Jews out of town after dark are vigilantes who
operate independently, others work in
concert with the police and the municipalities.
in August, in an effort to undercut the refugee claims of Eritreans, who make
up three quarters of the asylum-seeker population in Israel, Shalom defended the
dictatorship in Eritrea. “You apparently don’t know what is happening in the
country,” he responded to the accusation that Eritrea is an autocratic regime,
but admitted that his belief was based on testimony by Eritrea’s own ambassador
course. Who [else] would provide the information?” he said.
the month ended, Shalom authorized a new rule that would put almost every
non-Jewish African living in Israel at risk of being rounded up and taken to
the desert detention center Holot.
to the new protocol, only Eritreans and Sudanese who had already lived in
Israel for many years could be summoned to Holot. Shalom’s new criteria
stipulated that any Eritrean or Sudanese in Israel can be detained in
Holot, regardless of the date that they entered the country.
November, Shalom’s ministry distributed the
proposed text of a fourth amendment to the “anti-infiltration” law, seeking to
increase the duration that refugees can be incarcerated at Holot. In addition,
the new amendment specifies that even asylum-seekers who are parents to young
children can now also be forced to live at Holot.
the last days of December 2015, Shalom resigned his post and quit the Knesset
after six women came forward and accused him of
serious sex crimes.
1. Benjamin Netanyahu – prime minister
days before national elections were held in March, Prime Benjamin Netanyahu
published a video
recounting what he considered to be the greatest accomplishments of his last
term in office.
these, he took credit for preventing the entry of African refugees or in his
shut off, completely closed off access to terrorists, to infiltrators to the
State of Israel,” he said. “The only state that managed to control its
was no idle boast. Eritreans and Sudanese make up more than 90 percent of the
asylum-seekers living in Israel. And yet Israel has awarded refugee status to
only four of the former and zero of the latter.
the words of an editorial
published by the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz in February, “Israel is the
least moral country in the world when it comes to awarding asylum to those who
Netanyahu secured reelection, he set to the task of divvying out government
ministries among party loyalists and coalition partners.
those appointed to serve in his new cabinet were all three Likud lawmakers who
were featured speakers
at a May 2012 anti-African rally in Tel Aviv that devolved into a full-on race
riot: Danny Danon, Yariv Levin and Miri Regev.
years, Netanyahu has led a team of ministers who demonize Africans in the
minds of the Israeli public by associating them with terrorism and fatal
Netanyahu knows that it isn’t appropriate for the head of the government of a
self-styled Western democracy to cast all refugees as criminals.
while he calls refugees “infiltrators” in Hebrew, his English-language
his slur word as “migrants.”
four years running, Netanyahu has led Israel’s war on refugees: promoting
racists to positions of power, ensuring the passage of anti-African legislation
and inciting racial hatred against a defenseless community.
Haaretz accurately summed up Netanyahu’s
anti-African legacy in an editorial it published in July, under the headline,
“Israel thinks African asylum-seekers aren’t human beings.”
Sheen is an independent writer and filmmaker. Born in Toronto, he now
lives in Dimona in present-day Israel. Website: www.davidsheen.com. Twitter: @davidsheen