The arrest of an Eritrean national on suspicion of raping an 83-year-old woman in south Tel Aviv has once again ignited an area that was already a tinderbox, a place where down-and-out Israelis live alongside African asylum-seekers. Hundreds of residents, organized by right-wing activists, marched to the central bus station on Monday evening, carrying signs calling for the expulsion of Sudanese and Eritrean migrants.
"The infiltrators come here without women, and afterward people are surprised that they rape," MK Michael Ben Ari (Otzma Leyisrael ) told the demonstrators. "I'm calling for issuing an emergency order to expel all the infiltrators back to Africa."
Ben Ari wasn't the only public figure to use the rape to enrage the public, which was upset enough already. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, as part of his Shas party's election campaign, posted a statement on his Facebook page headlined, "Shas is my home, Sudan is theirs." The text then continued, "This is another shocking incident that illustrates the lack of personal security felt by Israeli citizens in areas where infiltrators are concentrated."
Yishai's words contradict the data of the Knesset Research Department, which show that migrants have a lower crime rate than the rest of the population. His remarks are an ugly example of racist slander against an entire group.
Elected officials like Ben Ari and Yishai, who are trying to earn political points in the run-up to the election by presenting themselves as "fighting for distressed neighborhoods," are exploiting the shock, anger and fear felt by the locals following the rape. But their aggressive statements are liable to spur racist violence against innocent people, of the type that occurred during a demonstration in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood last May, when protesters beat African passersby, burned trash bins and looted stores.
Collective hatred and violence against migrants will not solve the real problems of those who live in south Tel Aviv. But Ben Ari and Yishai know that inciting the anger of the mob in this fashion helps them avoid having to provide real solutions to the socioeconomic distress of weaker populations in general, and south Tel Aviv residents in particular.
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