The Israeli Labour Party Attacks Netanyahu for being too soft on African Refugees
The Israeli Labour Party Attacks Netanyahu for being too soft on African Refugees
The Jewish Labour
Movement’s ‘sister party’ supports the physical expulsion of refugees from Israel to Eritrea
Demonstration of Eritrean Refugees Outside the Eritrean Embassy in Tel Aviv
For those who are not aware,
after Palestine had been ethnically
cleansed of Palestinians in 1947-8, those who tried to return to their lands
were called ‘infiltrators’ and were shot on sight. They were not wanted because Israel, being a Jewish
state, could not allow any more non-Jews to live in the State. On the contrary, throughout the 1950’s
thousands of Palestinians and Bedouin were deported.
The Jewish Labour Movement, which
is affiliated as a ‘socialist society’ to the Labour Party describes itself as
the ‘sister’ party of the Israeli Labour Party.
In an article The ethnic cleansing of
Africans in Israel, David Sheen wrote that ‘Another 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 right-wing votes.’ I might take issue
with David Sheen over whether or not the Israeli Labour Party is centrist but
essentially he is correct. The Israeli
Labour Party’s position over the pogroms in South Tel Aviv and the virulent
racism directed against Israel’s African refugees, is no different to that of
As Sheen noted, in its attempt to win votes from Likud ‘In 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.’
That tendency has increased ever since Isaac Herzog was
elected to lead the party in November 2013. It has been especially evident in
Herzog’s support for Netanyahu’s military campaigns in Gaza and the West Bank,
but also in his support for expelling Africans from Israel.
It 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 measure.
When 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.
In May 2012, Herzog wrote an opinion piece, challenging
arguments by human rights groups that Eritreans in Israel deserved protection
In 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.”
The Jewish Labour Movement describes the Israeli Labor Party as its ‘sister’ party
The reasons for the exodus are not hard to fathom: last month, a UN inquiry accused the government of President Isaias Afewerki – who has ruled
the east African country since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 – of
operating a system of “ruthless repression” and “pervasive state control”.
The chair of the inquiry, Mike Smith, noted a culture of “extra-judicial
executions, enforced disappearances and incommunicado detentions”, all aimed at
silencing critics of the regime.
Human Rights Watch tells
of how, after ‘25 years of rule by unelected President Isaias Afwerki,
Eritrea’s citizens remain subjects of one of the world’s most oppressive
‘In May 2016, a United Nations
Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established by the Human Rights Council in its
final report said it found reasonable grounds to believe the government has
committed numerous crimes against humanity. The government’s “totalitarian practices”
and disrespect for the rule of law manifested “wholesale disregard for the
liberty” of Eritrea’s citizens, the CoI concluded.’
This is the state that the Israeli
Labour Party wishes to return refugees in Israel to. What is worse is that the British Labour
Party allows the ILP’s overseas wing, the Jewish Labour Movement, as an
This 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 in
In September 2015, quite unbelievably the Israeli Labour
Party 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
“The 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.”
Of course the opposite is true. It is Likud MKs like Miri Regev who have led
the racist agitation against the African refugees of South Tel Aviv. Regev herself notoriously called the African
refugees a ‘cancer’ and then when criticized, apologized
to cancer victims for comparing them to refugees.
The Israeli Labour Party subscribes wholeheartedly
to the idea that non-Jewish refugees threaten the Jewish nature of the Israeli
state. This is another example of how a
‘Jewish’ state cannot be other than a racist state.
Avi Gabbay, the Israeli Labor Party’s racist new leader
”What has become of you?
Are you the Zionist Union or the expelling union? Have you gone mad? In your
tactics for wooing votes, you’ve abandoned your fundamental values and ability
to tell right from wrong.”
Tamar Zandberg, a lawmaker
from the leftist Meretz Party, shouted that at the left-bloc
Zionist Union members who yesterday backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s
draconian legislation to forcibly deport the remaining roughly 40,000 African
asylum seekers to a third country – Rwanda.
Zandberg’s party leader
Zehava Gal-On, added that the Zionist Union leader, Avi Gabbay, has “forgotten
what it means to be human” – playing a bitter pun on the Gabbay’s recent
echoing of Netanyahu, where he said that “the left has
forgotten what it means to be Jewish.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu
told the cabinet on Sunday that it is time to “increase the pace of deporting
African migrants”, as the Jerusalem Post reported, introducing a bill which
passed 53-10 on Monday – much thanks to Gabbay’s support of a policy that is
contrary to Labor’s former position.
Jerusalem Post Gil Hoffman
yesterday summarized Gabbay’s many shifts
rightwards since his being elected chair of Labor this summer:
Gabbay said recently that
there would be no need to evacuate settlements in a peace deal, that he would
not sit in a coalition with the Joint (Arab) list, that he was not sure if
there was a partner on the Palestinian side, that “the Left forgot what it
means to be Jewish”, and that “the whole land of Israel is ours, because it was
promised to our patriarch Abraham by God”.
Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, from her Twitter feed.
Indeed, with an opposition
like this, who needs Netanyahu? As Meretz leader Gal-On put it, Gabbay was
moving so far right, that he could even “outflank Bayit Yehudi [Jewish Home]
leader Naftali Bennett”.
move comes after a Supreme Court ruling two months ago that limited the state’s
practice to coerce refugees to accept being deported to a third country,
through indefinite imprisonment. At that point Netanyahu, together with Culture
Minister Miri Regev (who has earlier called African refugees “a cancer in our
body”), went on a major incitement tour against African refugees in southern
Tel Aviv, saying that “We are here on a
mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents”.
Netanyahu was making clear
that he will not be deterred by the court ‘limitation’:
“We’ll have to enact new
laws that will enable us … to send the illegal infiltrators out of our
country”, he said.
As the Times of Israel
rightly noted at the time, “expulsion to
a third country is largely unprecedented in the Western world. Italy and
Australia signed similar agreements with third-party countries — Italy with
Libya, and Australia with Malaysia — but both proposals were shot down by local
courts. In both cases, courts ruled the bills inconsistent with international
law and the 1951 UN convention on refugees — to which Israel is also a party.”
But the court did, in fact,
not rule against Israel’s practice of deportation to a third country – which is
now known to be Rwanda. It merely limited the state’s practice of indefinite
detention aimed at putting pressure on refugees to agree to be deported. It
limited the imprisonment period to 60 days. In other words, refugees who seek
to hold on to their human rights could still be imprisoned for it, but ‘only’
for 60 days.
Justice Minister Ayelet
Shaked was clear at the time about the necessity of this coercive measure, in
her statement condemning the Supreme Court decision:
“The High Court removed
from the state the ability to pressure the illegal infiltrators,” she said. “It
turned the [migrant’s] lack of cooperation into a reward. We will fight this
until we achieve the necessary results,” she said.
So Israel is now working on
moves that would simply legalize what the court has struck down, and let’s see
how far it goes before it’s challenged. As Ilan Lior reported in Haaretz on Friday, “The
border authority will formally announce within a few weeks a new policy, under
which asylum seekers will have to return to their countries of origin, agree to
be sent to Rwanda or be jailed indefinitely in Israel.”
Gabbay’s recent push to
support Netanyahu’s bill has divided the Labor leaders, and even Shelly
Yachimovitch of Labor– the one who demanded immediate pardon for
medic-killer Elor Azarya– said that it’s “morally
impossible to support this.”
Labor lawmaker Zouheir
Bahloul said, “I don’t understand how the party can support such an immoral
move by the right, which seeks to throw refugees to hell.” He added: “Angela
Merkel was willing to take the political risk until Election Day and take her
moral stance of accepting thousands of refugees, and we hesitate and squirm
here. Israel can handle a few tens of thousands of refugees and spread them
across the country.”
In the end, most of the
Zionist Union MKs who are against refugee rights (and that’s the plurality of
the 22 Zionist Union members) were absent from the Knesset vote. But the
measure still passed, as mentioned, 53-10.
With all the dissent, let’s
look at what the leaders of the Israeli left say in the end:
Gabbay’s predecessor Isaac
Herzog (still leader of Zionist Union in Knesset as Gabbay isn’t MK), said that
“The infiltrators took Israeli Arab jobs.” Wow. The ‘infiltrators’. Netanyahu
uses the same term. And is Herzog’s concern now really about ‘Arabs’ – the one
who warned the Israeli
center-left not to be seen to be ‘Arab lovers’?
Think about it – “Arab
jobs”. Does anyone in Israel even notice the vile, blatant, racism here?
And Labor’s Merav Michaeli,
(who recently said that “a lot of the BDS
movement is good old anti-Semitism”), backed Herzog’s line, just a touch more
“liberally”, without the ‘Arabs’ and substituting “infiltrators” with “migrants”:
“Residents have been left
at home with no work, because of the migrants”, she said. “There are MK’s in
the opposition who cannot look in[to] the eyes of residents who are screaming
for us to save them”, she added.
Gosh, what empathy. The
Israeli residents are screaming to be saved. Nonetheless, the cries of the
refugees, who at best are called “migrants” and commonly regarded as
“infiltrators”, even by the left, appear inaudible.
Gabbay is no doubt wooing
votes from the right, and he said behind closed doors yesterday that “this is
not an issue of right or left”. Already assuming his future constituency, he
said that “we would pay a price for arguing with the public”.
So whilst not wanting to
argue with “the public”, Gabbay apparently didn’t mind arguing with his own
party leadership to support Netanyahu’s bill.