African refugees in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv.
African refugees in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The recent serious crimes in south Tel Aviv have brought the issue of labor migrants back to the center of attention. The alleged involvement of African labor migrants and refugees in rapes and robberies has elicited dangerous statements and populist proposals by politicians. Interior Minister Eli Yishai outdid them all when he suggested that they "all, without exception, be put in jail or a detention facility." He says they should be given a departure grant and be expelled back to their countries of origin.

Shas leader Yishai is taking advantage of people's anger and anxiety to promote his vision of hermetically sealing Israel to all non-Jews. One might expect a Jew to avoid vilifying tens of thousands of unfortunate people, among them many who are starving, whose common denominator is their skin color. Yishai might want to study the words of Abraham, who asked God to spare the people of Sodom: "Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?" (Gen. 18:24 ).

By continuing to ignore the influx of labor migrants, the government faces a complex challenge that requires a courageous decision and a coordinated approach. The completion of the fence on the Sinai border won't resolve the plight of some 60,000 labor migrants who are already here, and the solution isn't in the hands of lawmakers or law enforcement officials. Despair and idleness will drag more and more migrants into crime. Friction with Jewish neighbors will lead to violence like the Molotov cocktails that were thrown at the kindergarten for migrants' children in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood.

Instead of dangerous incitement, which only worsens the problem, the interior minister should give migrants permits to work at the jobs for which he approves visas for foreign workers. Instead of declaring war on unfortunate migrants, the government should learn from other developed countries how to make labor migrants part of the society and economy.