On Wednesday night, in the predominately black neighborhood of Hatikva in Tel Aviv, Israel, nationalist protestors took to the streets demanding the deportation of African immigrants and asylum seekers. Many of the immigrants came from Eritrea and South Sudan, smuggled into the country through Israel’s southern border with Egypt. An estimated 90% are economic migrants who come to Israel are coming to look for work. Many have also come to escape the poverty and persecution in their home countries.
The violent protests were marked by protestors shouting, “Blacks out!” and “Send the Sudanese back to Sudan,” as windows of shops owned by the African migrants were smashed. Some Africans were beat up and pelted with rocks as they attempted to leave their homes. TJ, a young Nigerian immigrant said, “A group of about 10 or 15 boys stopped one black kid cycling on his bike. They pulled him off and were punching and kicking him in his head. The police just stood and watched until it got really out of control.” Another particularly tragic incident involved a gang assault on a mother carrying a young baby.
The protests turned especially violent after several Knesset ministers, some from the ruling Likud party, made racists remarks during the rally. MP Miri Regev described illegal immigrants as a “cancer in our society,” defending her position Thursday by saying African immigrants pose a demographic threat to Israel. Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has often called for the expulsion of non-Jewish immigrants, believed there would soon be half a million to a million immigrants. Yishai proclaimed, “we cannot lose our country to this.”
Days before the protests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the rise of immigrants from Africa is “threatening the fabric of Israeli society, its national security and its national identity.” During the evening of the protests, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party Danny Danon wrote a Facebook status stating, “Israel is at war. An enemy state of infiltrators was established in Israel, and its capital is south Tel Aviv.” The riots have led to demands to send the African immigrants to jail, followed by expulsion.
These recent violent protests are quite damaging to Israel’s reputation as a country that prides itself as being a “beacon of democracy in the Middle East.” The dangerous amount of violence displayed during the riots, along with the racist remarks of members of parliament, are beginning to point to signs of a new level of intolerance in Israel.
TJ the young Nigerianimmigrant said, "Black people have been too afraid to leave their homes to go to work today. Racism in Tel Aviv is not only getting worse it's getting out of hand and the police are no help. We are terrified."
African immigrants that come to Israel look for opportunities for work and a better life, but with this new wave of racial discrimination, they are targeted as unwelcomed infiltrators. If the government intends to continue its anti-immigrant rhetoric, it will face some negative consequences and will continue to damage Israel's image abroad.