The Real Reason for Racism in South Tel Aviv

Vered Lee
Vered Lee
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Vered Lee
Vered Lee

"In the corners of the living quarters of the Africans ... you will find the filth, card games played for money, residents getting drunk, and prostitution. ... The Africans bring this way of life with them when they migrate, and it is no wonder that crime in the country is on the upswing. Young women and even young men are again not safe going out on the streets alone after dark."

These harsh statements were not written about African refugees who recently arrived in Israel. They were written by Haaretz journalist Aryeh Gelblum on April 22, 1949, and referred to the Jews who had immigrated from North Africa, many of the same immigrants who either themselves or whose descendents now populate south Tel Aviv and who are now spouting similar rhetoric against newly arrived refugees from Africa.

Residents of south Tel Aviv who have suffered for years from poverty, crime and prostitution have been working for some time to get the refugees expelled from their neighborhoods. The rhetoric they employ has succeeded in misleading and blinding many people who in more clearheaded times would label such talk as pure racism.

It is precisely during these dark times, however, during which the level of hate is rising, that the duty exists to state clearly that the hostility in south Tel Aviv neighborhoods towards the refugees is pure and simple racism. The residents of these neighborhoods are hiding behind a rhetorical artifice based in part on the argument that their neighborhoods are teetering on the edge and the refugees impose additional difficulties on them.

The residents also argue that the refugees pose a threat to their personal safety, try to pick up their young women and sow crime in the streets. A third contention relates to the refugees' way of life: They crowd into small apartments and degrade the cleanliness of the neighborhood. Finally, it is argued, that their growing numbers pose a demographic threat.

Any attempt to point out the racist rhetoric that they are creating is rebuffed with pretentions of total innocence, which quickly turns into anger, rejecting the right of those who don't live in the neighborhood to judge.

Nonetheless, the negative labeling, the stereotypes and the fear of those who are different, who, they say, will change the social fabric are clear hallmarks of racism.

Anyone who tries to whitewash the hate-drenched efforts of the residents of south Tel Aviv on the contention that things are more complicated is falling into the trap laid by the racist rhetoric and is giving support to these efforts.

Surprisingly, in recent years, residents of south Tel Aviv have not come out against the real reason for the collapse of their neighborhoods, the real threat to themselves and their children, which is the drug trade that brings with it crime and feeds prostitution in the area.

The residents, however, have learned to react apathetically to the decline posed by drug addicts, to the crime around them, to the trafficking in women which seeps unhindered onto their streets. They are apathetic to the prostitutes loitering in their apartment stairwells, to the thriving escort services and to the dirty needles scattered in public parks and in the yards of the neighborhood.

If the residents of south Tel Aviv had wanted to fight to improve the looks of their neighborhoods, they would have joined forces with the refugees for real social change. They would have been able to engage in productive discussion with residents of the various communities and bridge the cultural divide. Together they could demand the intervention of municipal and national government officials for the benefit of the entire population of the area.

The attempt to denigrate the refugees and accuse them of crime and to scorn the overcrowding in their small apartments while ignoring their suffering and poverty reveals the real motive for the racism of south Tel Aviv's residents: fear of living in proximity to a Muslim population. And the biggest concern of all: That the value of the residents' homes will go down.