Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the fight against illegal migrants from Africa a top priority. Netanyahu considers illegal migration from Sudan and Eritrea a serious danger and has called it a "flood that threatens every citizen, threatens employment of Israelis, and threatens the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel."
The state must enforce the law, including the law governing entry into the country. The African migrants, who have fled countries stricken by war, oppression and poverty, came to Israel to improve their situation and went from Sinai to the Negev without authorization. Like other developed countries, Israel is trying to heighten its walls to prevent poor and desperate migrants from settling here.
But there is a line that the state and its leaders must not cross: portraying the illegal migrants as a danger to our survival, as criminals stealing our livelihoods and spreading disease. This attitude encourages racism, incitement and persecution of migrants who are staying in Israel until their legal status is clarified. And even if they came without visas, they did not come to undermine the social order.
When Netanyahu talks about a "flood" and "threat to the state," his words encourage the thugs of the Kahanist right wing and the racist municipal rabbis to declare war on foreigners. Racists have an easy target; migrants who are not citizens have no political representation and the groups that assist them are viewed as radical and undermining the state.
The demonstrations and acts of incitement against foreigners led Netanyahu to release a statement on his Facebook page calling on people to avoid violence. He also pledged to work "with determination to stop the flow of illegal infiltrators from Africa." Netanyahu asks the street thugs to "let me handle them" but with them helps spread a sense of fear of the African migrants.
Netanyahu's approach is problematic and dangerous. The migrants from Sudan and Eritrea present Israel with a humanitarian problem but do not endanger its existence or future. Depicting them as enemies of the state, especially by the prime minister, is fuel for the fires of racism and xenophobia.
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