African refugees protesting in Israel.
African refugees protesting in Israel. Photo by Daniel Bar On
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page last week, "I've given instructions to advance legislation of a new law that will enable holding illegal labor infiltrators in custody." Further down he wrote, "We must continue the steps that have totally blocked the infiltration to Israel so far." In summary he wrote, "Illegal infiltrators have no special privileges at the expense of Israel's citizens."

This shows that Netanyahu in fact supports legislation that bypasses a ruling issued by the High Court of Justice. The new proposal merely reduces the African migrants' incarceration period from three years to a year and a half, but still infringes disproportionately on their right to freedom and contradicts the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. Also, the flow of migrants has all but stopped - already at the end of December 2012, after the fence was built, it was reported that almost nobody crossed the border.

But beyond this, a more fundamental problem seems to be concealed in Netanyahu's rhetoric, which directly influences the entire Israeli discourse.

The former interior minister, Eli Yishai, did everything in his power to dehumanize the migrants from Africa, and the current interior minister, Gideon Sa'ar, sponsored the new bill that continues his predecessor's racist path. Exactly like those two, Netanyahu insists on using the word "infiltrators" to describe a group of people, some of whom escaped states like Eritrea and Sudan, where their lives were in peril, and some of whom are seeking work that would allow them to make a living.

This inflammatory rhetoric is not accidental. Its real aim is to create a widely popular, unconscious resistance to the migration to Israel in itself. The state hasn't bothered to examine the reasons for migration on an individual basis, in violation of the Refugee Convention and basic moral values. This is precisely what generated the need for inciteful propaganda against the refugees and migrants from Africa. This incitement gives a tailwind to legislating draconian laws against this weak group of people.

The combination of inflammatory rhetoric and oppressive laws against the weak is a characteristic of undemocratic states. If Israel doesn't want to be counted among them, Netanyahu, like the rest of the ministers and Knesset members, must stop inciting and improvising laws to circumvent the High Court of Justice. It's time they internalize the most basic fact – the "infiltrators" are first and foremost human beings, who want to live normal lives. Most of them are refugees who deserve Israel's protection. But Israel, which should provide them with this protection, is abandoning its responsibility to do so.