Once again, the media, politicians and people are flustered over the African-migrants issue. And once again, everyone sympathizes with the residents of south Tel Aviv, and agrees, once again, that if the migrants had crowded into your neighborhood, you'd react the same way.
Only a year and a half ago, in the same place with the same issue, the residents of the Hatikva neighborhood demonstrated against the black migrants with racist chants, the Africans feared for their lives, and all Israel deplored the racism while sympathizing with the poor neighborhood. But who cares, because who's counting, certainly not the government or the prime minister.
Back then, the prime minister said the African migrants were "an immediate threat to the state's Jewish and democratic character" - that they were "an ever-growing wave, threatening Israelis' jobs." This incitement was followed immediately by the disclaimer "not to take the law into one's own hands and harm the illegal infiltrators."
Now he's pulling the exact same maneuver. After the violent events in Hatikva, Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to "clarify" that there was "no place for utterances or actions of the kind we witnessed last night." He forgot that a few days earlier he said that the 60,000 Africans might turn into 600,000, causing the "negation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."
Netanyahu, of course, "understands the pain of the residents of south Tel Aviv." That's particularly interesting since in January, he did not notice the pain of the poor and homeless Hatikva residents who literally had nowhere to go. They were forcefully evicted from their encampment in the neighborhood. Netanyahu did not notice, nor did his ministers or the mayors who united against the migrants. The homeless camp-dwellers were evicted without second thoughts or sympathy by all those who now "understand their pain."
In fact, back in January, it was these very poor camp-dwellers who were accused of constituting a hygiene problem, a pocket of crime, an immediate threat to their surroundings. They were blamed for their poverty and accused of not working or providing for their children or themselves. At the same time, using the old divide-and-rule strategies, other neighborhood residents were incited against the encampment.
No wonder this year's demonstration was more violent than last year's. The violence increased because the problem of the African migrants in the neighborhood was utterly neglected and therefore worsened, while the incitement against the Africans became more abusive. The violence also grew because in the past year Hatikva residents were part of the social protest they hoped would improve their lot, but backfired. Not only did their situation not improve, during the forced evacuation of the tents they were treated as if they were illegal migrants, a bunch of despicable trespassers and lawbreakers.
The food chain works like this: When helpless against the power of the government, directly responsible for their sad state, a frustrated and hurt community turns against a weaker group that's easy to blame for all its problems. Actually, the mechanism is more sophisticated: When the residents of south Tel Aviv show their pain, the government, media and the public turn against them. When they attack someone lower in the social chain, they are embraced by everyone.
The problem of the African migrants can be solved. The authorities should accept refugee applications and review them individually. Illegal migrants can be returned to their countries, while refugees should be allowed to stay in Israel and be issued work permits, allowing them to take jobs that Israelis won't do. For every working refugee, Israel should release a foreign worker, who are practically trafficked. Sadly, despite the sense of urgency and frustration that the African-migrants issue evokes, it's much easier to tackle this problem than to change the long-standing policies that perpetuate the hardship and poverty of south Tel Aviv and similar areas in Israel. See you at the next demonstration in south Tel Aviv.
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