Racism poisons Israeli society

June 13, 2012 at 12:01 am (africa, AWL, Cross-post, israel, Racism)

By Sacha Ismail (cross-posted from Workers Liberty)

“Garbage”. “Poison”. “Cancer”. These are some of the words used by Israeli politicians to describe African migrants in the last month, which has seen racist riots, assaults and firebombings in working-class neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv, encouraged and partly orchestrated by the “mainstream” right.

The real cancer in Israeli society is racism, running riot as Israel entrenches its domination over the Palestinians, Israeli society is further militarised and brutalised, and Israeli politics shifts further and further to the right.

Israeli parliamentarians described Africans in Israel as a “cancer” in Israel’s body.

To give a flavour of the kind of things being said about migrants and refugees, one Knesset member (MK, like MP), Aryeh Eldad has argued that “Anyone that penetrates Israel’s border should be shot— a Swedish tourist, Sudanese from Eritrea, Eritreans from Sudan, Asians from Sinai. Whoever touches Israel’s border — shot.” He describes people who oppose such a policy as “bleeding hearts”.

Eldad is a member of a small nationalist party. But politicians from the government party Likud were instrumental in sparking the riots. Meanwhile the government has refused to condemn attacks on Africans and instead used them as an excuse to step up its anti-migrant agenda. This includes

• a new law allowing refugees to be jailed for three years, and those who help them illegally to be jailed for up to 15 years; • seeking to immediately deport all refugees from South Sudan, with raids across Israel since the start of June, on the spurious pretext that now it has separated from Sudan it is safe (ironically for the Israeli right, this will hardly lessen the number of refugees in Israel, since the vast majority come from Sudan and Eritrea, to which they cannot legally be returned); • building a 150-mile fence along the border with Egypt; • building a giant detention centre, with accommodation made out of cargo crates, in the Negev desert.

Naturally such measures will — in addition to directly producing a lot of death and suffering — boost racism and lead to further attacks on those who remain in the cities (and probably black Jewish Israelis — this has already happened in at least one case).

There are 60,000 African migrants in Israel, out of a population of almost 8 million. Yet anti-African racism is even more widespread than anti-Arab racism, and seems to be rapidly becoming a new cutting edge for political reaction in Israel. Likud MK Miri Regev described African migrants as “a cancer in our body” — and one poll suggests just over half of Jewish Israelis agree with her. One third sympathise with the recent attacks. Even among Arab Israelis, 23 percent sympathise with the attacks, though “only” 19 percent agree with the “cancer” description.

Left-leaning and secular Israelis are much less likely to hold anti-African views. But no large political organisation has spoken out in defence of migrants. The Israeli Labor Party is typically speaking out of both sides of its mouth, condemning (in the words of its leader Shelly Yachimovich) “inflammatory and shocking racial incitement against foreigners” but also saying that “the government has failed… and let the slums be flooded by migrant workers and refugees, thereby helping to kindle wild passions” and asserting the need to “protect the country from facing a huge mass of migrant workers”. It has set up a “panel of experts” on the issue, headed by a former head of the Israeli national police’s serious crime department. The Histadrut union federation seems to have remained quiet.

There are organisations in Israel attempting to stand up for migrants’ rights, a number of which we met when Workers’ Liberty members visited Israel and Palestine in 2010 (see here). The Workers’ Advice Centre is a smaller, radical trade union which puts a strong emphasis on organising Jewish, Arab and migrant workers together. Tel Aviv has an African Refugee Development Centre, which is fighting hard on these issues, as are many in the Israeli peace movement. But they are swimming against the tide. The ARDC, for instance, recently lost the lease for a new office due to racism.

African migrants and left-wing/human rights activists in Israel need solidarity. Part of that solidarity is trying to understand what is happening in Israel, as the militarised regime of occupation, settlements and institutionalised discrimination sinks reactionary poison deeper and deeper into the whole of politics and society.

African Refugee Development Centre Workers’ Advice Centre For coverage of African refugees in Israel see 972mag.com


  1. The Judge said,

    And all this in “The only democracy in the Middle East (TM)” and “A light unto the nations (C)”.

    Face it: when your state is predicated on the very notion of racial supremacy and exclusivity, racism is what you are going to get. I suppose that if you get bored of bombing Arab kids, it’s good to have a n****r handy to relieve the monotony.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    The “Judge”‘s statement (above) is either ignorant or deliberately dishonest.
    Israel was *not* “predicated on the very notion of racial supremacy and exclusivity” any more than most states in the world, especially so-called “settler” states.. It was founded as a homeland for a persecuted people. Most of the founders of Israel supported, to varying degrees, minority rights within Israel for non-Jews, and especially Palestinian Arabs.Of course, even now Palestinians can (and do) have seats in the Knesset. The truth is that there is more to the anti-Israel distortions of people like “The Judge” than a proper siding with the weak against the oppressor. When other states (Britain, France, USA, Australia, Italy, etc, etc, etc) oppress minorities, socialists and democrats have, quite rightly, championed self-determination and independence (and/or equal rights *within* the nation-state) for the victims.

    Uniquely in the case of Israel, opposition to its oppression of the Palestinians (and now, the racism of certain sections of Israeli society towards black Africans – something hardly unique to Israel) is linked with a denial of the right of the Israeli state and the Jewish nation to exist. This “anti-imperialism of fools” is based upon a Stalinist misrepresentation of how the Israeli state came into existence, a fundamental misunderstanding of what Zionism was and is, and (most importantly) not, primarily concern for the Palestinians and/or other non-Jewish minorities, but hatred of Israel and its majority population, and a wish to deny Jews (and, paradoxically, also Palestinians) the national rights that the vast majority of peoples in the modern world enjoy.

  3. Babz Badasbab Rahman said,

    You’re absolutely right on how Israel was ‘meant’ to have been founded. But in reality Israel was founded at the expense of the indigenous people living there. I’m talking about partial ethnic cleansing and discriminatory and double standard policies vis-a-vis the Arab population. So for example Israel declared independence unilaterally, it opposes the Palestinians doing the same. Israel has the ‘Law of Return’ but adamantly opposes the Palestinians ‘Right Of Return. Israel insists on Palestinians recognising it’s ‘right to exist’ (which is unprecedented in international relations but the PLO has agreed to do so) but refuses to recognise Palestine.

    Also regarding the founders of Israel, their first PM was David Ben-Gurion who helped plan the partial ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population. Another famous Israeli politician Menachem Begin founded the right wing Likud which is one of the biggest political parties in Israel. And like Begin he was involved in major terrorist atrocities before the creation of Israel and as PM he was involved in major state terrorism.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    One of the main reasons that Israel has turned out the way it is, was the Arab ruling class’s refusal to accept the UN’s partition plan in 1947 and the surrounding Arab states’ 1948 war intended to strangle the Israeli state at birth. That’s also why recognition of Israel’s “right to exist” is such a big deal for many Israelis. None of this excuses the denial of national rights to the Palestinians or the racism that exists within Israel, of course: but it *does* help explain it.

  5. The Judge said,

    So much disingenuity in one reply!

    “Israel was *not* “predicated on the very notion of racial supremacy and exclusivity””, closely followed by:

    “It was founded as a homeland for a persecuted people.”

    A ‘homeland’ for one ‘people’ and one ‘people’ alone; irrespective of the fact that a large number of members of another ‘people’ happened already to be living there, and had done for generations.

    (Oh, and well done for slipping the word ‘persecution’ in there as well; always useful to do a bit of shroud-waving when you have nothing else to argue with).

    “Most of the founders of Israel supported, to varying degrees, minority rights within Israel for non-Jews, and especially Palestinian Arabs.”

    The ‘to varying degrees’ presumably includes those then-and-future PMs who various described the inhabitants of Palestine as either ‘non-existant’ or ‘cockroaches’?

    “Of course, even now Palestinians can (and do) have seats in the Knesset.”

    Where they are marginalised, regularly denounced as ‘terrorists’ and even physically abused by the ever more vociferous Messianic extremists who constantly hold the balance of power. And the ‘moderates’ sit on their hands and the so-called ‘left’ just wants a fluffier Occupation.

    “[O]pposition to its oppression of the Palestinians […] is linked with a denial of the right of the Israeli state and the Jewish nation to exist.”

    Where did I say either of those? I accept the right of Israel to exist but only within its pre-67 borders and not a square centimetre more. And the Jewish nation does not comprise solely (or even primarily) Erets Yisra’el. The feeble attempts made to connect opposition to Israel’s policies of expansionism and institutionalised racism with anti-Semitism are growing ever less effective because of their constant misuse by the Hasbaraniks. Which is why people like you are becoming ever more shrill and desperate.

    “One of the main reasons that Israel has turned out the way it is, was the Arab ruling class’…”

    A siege mentality never produces a healthy polity, as we also saw in South Africa. However, the main reason Israel has turned out the way it is is the concept of over-arching cultural and ethnic superiority which has been inculcated in generations of Israelis. Again, there are parallels with South Africa; parallels which I am sure you will attempt to deny.

  6. Barry F said,

    An interesting aspect of Israeli antivAfrican racism is that it’s not confined to the Jewish population;

  7. Jim Denham said,


    1/ So to describe the Jews as “persecuted” is “shroud waving”?

    2/ What have I said in reply to you that is factually incorrect?

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