Tel Aviv protest against foreign migrants Dec. 21, 2010 (Ofer Vaknin)
The protest against foreign workers and refugees in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood, Dec. 21, 2010. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Hundreds of South Tel Aviv residents demonstrated yesterday against refugees and foreigners who have taken up residence in their neighborhoods. Their protest signs declared: "We've been afraid long enough; send the infiltrators home." They called on the government to deport aliens and demanded landlords refrain from renting them apartments.

Several dozen right-wing activists who do not reside in Tel Aviv joined the protest. Local residents spoke of acts of violence by foreign residents and harassment of Jewish women in South Tel Aviv.

The protesters said they are afraid to walk on the street after dark. "Every day I lock myself up at home at 4:30 P.M.," said a Jewish woman living in the Shapira neighborhood. "We were never afraid of anything throughout Israel's wars, but today I am frightened in my own home."

"Help us stop Israel from becoming a Muslim state," some placards declared. Other signs praised Interior Minister Eli Yishai for cracking down on foreign workers. Protesters called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.

"We won't stop until the last of these refugees is returned to his country," declared one area resident. Another called on Netanyahu to "wake up," adding that "the Jewish people and Jewish history will not forgive you for putting your head in the sand."

Tamir Ya'akov, a Ramle resident of Ethiopian ancestry, climbed up to the dais amid jeers. The booing ended when he clarified that he is Jewish. "I am a proud Jewish Ethiopian. Don't think that I am Sudanese," he said. "There is no war in their country; they come here just to make money, and I say to the government, 'Send them home.' They've deceived us enough."

Rabbi Michael Arbov called on the government to expel the aliens. "The Shapira neighborhood is conquered," he said. "Other neighborhoods are on the verge of being conquered. We are here to prevent the next act of murder or harassment or theft."

Kadima MK Yoel Hasson and National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari joined the protest.

"I am here to make sure that non-extremist voices make themselves heard. This is not a struggle waged by extremists or racists. This is a campaign waged by persons who want the state to be Jewish for all its citizens," Ben-Ari said, adding he felt like a stranger in parts of South Tel Aviv. "These are not persons who seek political asylum. They are foreign trespassers," said the MK.

Refugees and foreign workers who passed near demonstration were heckled. Feisal, a refugee from Sudan who has lived in the Hatikvah neighborhood for a year and a half, said the protest didn't worry him. "I am not afraid," he explained. "I feel comfortable in Israel. Where do they want me to go to?"

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called the South Tel Aviv residents' protest "understandable and correct." He called on the government to formulate a clear and consistent immigration policy that would "prevent border infiltration."

Prior to the demonstration, Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi made inquiries about the possibility of stopping protests of a racist character from being staged in city facilities.