Israel: Increase in Racism Against African Asylum Seekers

In the past few weeks two cases of rape of Jewish women by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been reported in the Israeli media, prompting a new wave of racism against asylum seekers in Israel.

Israel is currently home to about 45,000 asylum seekers; over 80% of them are from Eritrea and Sudan, who are barred from gaining refugee status in Israel. Instead, the refugees receive a conditional temporary release, until their deportation is possible. Currently, since such deportation would endanger the lives of the asylum seekers, it is illegal according to both international law and Israeli law.

The Israeli government insists that the asylum seekers are in fact illegal economic migrants and refuses to grant them any rights. Top Israeli officials, including the Minister of Interior Eli Yishai and Prime Minister Netanyahu have consistently claimed that the refugees pose a demographic threat as well as a threat to Israel's national security.

Following the two incidents of rape, Yishai said in an interview that “most African infiltrators are are involved in crime” and stated that the solution would be to lock up all refugees and deport them. However, police statistics show that the general crime rate in Israel is more than double that of Africans in Israel.

Racist graffiti in Hativa neighborhood, southern Tel Aviv. The graffiti reads "Sudanese go home" and "Price tag". Photo courtesy of Alon Sherf.

Blogger Shooky Galili has written [he] about the government's policy of sending the refugees to the poorest neighborhoods of Tel Aviv the moment they get out of detention (which they enter after crossing the border with Egypt):

מבחינת המדינה הם היו שקופים מאז ומתמיד. לא ספרו אותם. אז זה לא מפתיע שדווקא במקום הזה מכל המקומות בחרה המדינה להשליך, כמו כלבים, מאות אפריקאים בכל שבוע. אלפי פליטים שאיש לא דאג להם ללבוש, מקלט, עבודה או שירותים רפואיים. ביניהם עריקים מצבאות אכזריים, אסירים נמלטים, מתנגדי ממשל, אנשים שיקיריהם נרצחו, עונו ו/או נאנסו לנגד עיניהם וסתם אנשים שברחו מרעב, אלימות ופחד, למקום שחשבו שהוא אנושי יותר.
As far as the state is concerned, it has always ignored them [residents of the poor neighborhoods in Tel Aviv]. It's not surprising that in this place of all other places the state chose to dump, like dogs, hundreds of Africans every week. Thousands of refugees who no one provided with clothing, shelter, food or medical services. Among them are defectors from cruel armies [Eritrean refugees], escaped [political] prisoners, dissidents, people whose dear ones were murdered, tortured and/or raped before their eyes, or just people who escaped hunger, violence and fear, to a place they thought would be more humane.

Sigal Rozen, a prominent refugee rights activist from the Hotline for Migrant Workers (whose employees last week received death threats for assisting refugees), described the consequences of this incitement:

For the residents of southern Tel Aviv, where most of the refugees are concentrated, official crime rates undoubtedly do not matter. Their subjective feelings of fear are understandable. The irresponsible statements of senior police chiefs, together with the media coverage of actual incidents and the speeches of ministers and MKs, lead the residents to believe that almost all Africans walking the streets are criminals. This belief, and the fact that the streets of their neighborhoods are indeed filled with African newcomers, leads residents of the neighborhoods to the painful conclusion that the authorities are abandoning them. But this discourse has dangerous implications. In the last month, the number of hate crimes carried out by Israelis against Africans has risen tremendously. Multiple Molotov cocktails were thrown into houses of Africans in southern Tel Aviv on two separate occasions, a week apart.

Professor Moshe Negbi wrote on the 7th Eye blog about the role of the Israeli media [he]:

חיוני להזכיר למנסחי הכותרות ולכתבי הפלילים כי סעיף 14 לתקנון האתיקה של מועצת העיתונות – שכותרתו “אפליה וגזענות” – אוסר לאזכר את שיוכו של עבריין או חשוד למגזר כלשהו, אלא אם יש לשיוך האמור קשר מובהק וברור לעבריינותו. […] ברור שהכותרות “אריתריאים חשודים בתקיפה בדרום תל-אביב” ו”אפריקאי חשוד בשוד” אף הן עבירות קשות על הסעיף האמור, משום שבאזכור מוצאו האתני של העבריין יש כדי להטביע אות קין במצחם של כל בני עמו או גזעו.

כאשר הדבר נעשה בהקשר לתקיפות מיניות, העבירה חמורה ומסוכנת שבעתיים, משום שהפחד מ”הזר האפל”, המאיים כביכול על תומתן של בנותינו, הוא חומר הבעירה הגזעני הקטלני ביותר. מקומם שעורכים וכתבים מזינים בניסוחיהם את חומר הבעירה הזה. לא למותר לציין כי 85% מהתקיפות המיניות לא רק שאינן מבוצעות על-ידי “זר אפל”, אלא אחראים להן מכרים, קרובים או מעסיקים של הנאנסות.

It is crucial to remind editors in charge of phrasing headlines and crime reporters that Article 14 of the Ethics Regulations of the Israeli Press Council – entitled “Discrimination and Racism” – forbids mentioning the association of a criminal or a suspect with any sector of society, unless the affiliation to this group has a direct and clear connection to his crime. […] It is clear that the headlines “Eritreans suspected of an assault in southern Tel Aviv” and “African suspected of robbery” are grave violations of the aforementioned article, because the mentioning of the criminal's ethnicity implicates the criminal's entire people or race.

When it comes to sexual assaults, the violation [of the Ethics Regulations] is much more severe, since the fear of the “dark stranger”, who supposedly threatens the innocence of our daughters, is the most deadly racist combustive material. It is outrageous that editors and reporters feed the fire of this combustive material with their reports. Needless to say, 85% of sexual assaults [in Israel] not only do not involve a “dark stranger”, but happen at the hands of acquaintances, relatives or employers of the rape victims.

Injury of Eritrean man attacked by two Israelis holding broken bottles and a knife. Photo by Sigal Rozen on Facebook.

Yossi Gurvitz, leading Israeli leftist blogger, commented:

When the Israeli media reports a rape by “foreigners,” it engages in dog-whistling. It informs its readership that something much worse than rape took place: the defilement of the blood and honor of the Jewish people, the defiling of the honor of a daughter of Israel.

On his blog Room 404, Ido Kenan reported on the racist comments [he] posted by some Israelis in response to police requests for help in locating a five-year-old Eritrean girl who went missing (and was later found) in southern Tel Aviv:

הסטטוס זכה ל-300 שיתופים ולתגובות אמפתיות, אבל גם לכאלו של שנאה, גזענות וחוסר רגישות.
Avishay Vas: “תבדקו בחניונים…אולי סודני תקף אותה…”
The status [by the police, notifying that the girl went missing] received 300 shares and sympathetic reactions, but also comments filled with hatred, racism and insensitivity.
[For example] Avishay Vas: Check in the parking lots…Maybe a Sudanese man assaulted her…

Quick to joke about anything, Israelis on Twitter also commented on the growing wave of racism toward Africans:

Ayelet quipped:

זה בדיוק מה שישראל היתה צריכה עכשיו, גזענות נגד שחורים.
@a_Daydreamer: This is exactly what Israel needs right now, racism against black people.

Erez Raviv joked:

למה פאניקה ? קצת גזענות, קסנופוביה, פערים וריקבון חברתי לא הרגו אף אחד. בייחוד יהודים
@Erez_Raviv: Why all the panic? A little racism, xenophobia, inequality and social decay never killed anyone. Especially Jews

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