Tel Aviv Suburb, Whose Mayor Spoke Against 'Black Folks,' Cutting Power to African Refugees' Homes

City officials in Petah Tikva say they’re not acting against asylum seekers per se, but against illegally subdivided, overcrowded apartments.

Eritrean migrants in Founders' Square, Petah Tikva.
Moti Milrod

On instructions from the Petah Tikva municipality, the Israel Electric Corporation has begun cutting off power to apartments in the city that have been illegally subdivided. Most of the apartments are home to African asylum seekers.

Mayor Yitzhak Braverman told Haaretz that the electricity cuts are part of a drive against property owners who have illegally subdivided apartments, and is not meant to target asylum seekers. The subdivided apartments constitute a safety hazard and endanger residents and those in the area, he said.

The municipality initially ordered the electricity cuts about two weeks ago and confirmed to Haaretz that in the middle of this month, 13 apartments had been cut off. Although apparently no other apartments have had their electricity shut off since, the electricity utility plans to resume the cuts this week.

In recent years, there has been a huge increase in the number of asylum seekers in Petah Tikva, a Tel Aviv suburb. This was due in part to the ban on asylum seekers released from the Holot detention center in the south from relocating to Tel Aviv itself. Several thousand asylum seekers are thought to be living in Petah Tikva at this point.

A month and a half ago, Braverman wrote a Facebook post stating that, if necessary, he would “use force to prevent foreign workers from coming to the city.” About two weeks later, city hall announced its plans to cut off electricity to 50 apartments that had been subdivided. The city said that after 10 apartment owners were issued a warning that electricity would be shut off, the owners announced that they would return the apartments to their original, one-family configuration.

Braverman has been vocal in his concern about the growing numbers of what he has termed “foreign workers” in Petah Tikva. Last week, at a meeting of the municipal parents’ committee, he was recorded as saying that “it’s not pleasant to see black folks drinking beer” in Founders' Square in the center of the city.

Civil rights group accuses mayor of racist motives

At the beginning of February, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded that Braverman retract the order to cut electricity at subdivided apartments. “The electricity cutoff sweeps up [members of a] defined population group due only to their origins, status in Israel and the color of their skin. [The policy] is marred by serious unreasonableness [and] an extreme lack of proportionality, and it is not legal,” the organization wrote. The organization accused the mayor of being motivated by racist motives.

The mayor replied that the local planning and building committee has authority to order electricity cut off at properties where there are building code violations. “The cutoff of resources to subdivided apartments is not carried out against asylum seekers but against building code violations and the apartment owners,” the mayor wrote.

In recent months, asylum seekers have become a major public issue in Petah Tikva. When the current school year opened, the municipality refused to register dozens of children of asylum seekers at city kindergartens. The municipality later reconsidered and assigned them to a new, separate kindergarten that received only those children.

In November, a group of young people in Petah Tikva assaulted Babiker Abu Ali, a Sudanese asylum seeker, who died of his injuries. The assault came after he approached a number of girls and tried to talk to them.

About a month ago, a Sudanese asylum seeker living in Tel Aviv was arrested on suspicion of breaking into a Petah Tikva apartment and sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in her bed. Following the incident, a Likud party member on the Petah Tikva city council organized a demonstration in which locals accused city hall of abandoning the city center to foreign migrants.