Israel's New Public Security Minister Meets With Anti-asylum Seekers Activists on First Day

Touring Tel Aviv, Minister Amir Ohana embraces advocates of deportation of African asylum seekers, vows to 'return a sense of safety' for local residents

Ohana (center) and anti-asylum seeker activists, including Sheffi Paz (left), in south Tel Aviv, May 19, 2020.
Ohana (center) and anti-asylum seeker activists, including Sheffi Paz (left), in south Tel Aviv, May 19, 2020.Credit: Kareen Yusef

Israel's Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, fresh on the job since the new cabinet was sworn in this week, promised activists opposed to the largely African asylum seeker community living in Tel Aviv that he would do his utmost to address their concerns.

Ohana also met with senior police officers in the city's south, near the border of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, in his tour on Tuesday, which included a meeting with the activists.

Ohana embraced some of the activists, one of whom is a personal friend, and was welcomed with chants of “look who’s come to see us” and “Neve Sha’anan is seeing new times.” The activists expressed hopes that the visit signaled a policy change in their favor. Members of the “South Tel Aviv in Crisis” group that focuses on drug use in the area were also at the meeting.

Participants on the tour said activists highlighted criminal concerns in the area and not just those attributed to asylum seekers.

Ohana is sworn in as Public Security Minister, May 18, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Activists against the asylum seekers asserted that since 2018, when David Bitan became Tel Aviv police chief, enforcement efforts against asylum seekers have been lax while the activists feel they have faced discrimination. One activist said police have ignored their complaints of prostitution and drug trade in the area. Activist leader Sheffi Paz has been indicted twice for spraying graffiti on buildings, including a representative office of the European Union.

Ohana said afterward that “South Tel Aviv has been an important focal point of activity for me since my first day in the Knesset. The lives of residents in the south have been difficult since before the infiltrators,” Israeli government parlance for asylum-seekers, “And it has become even more difficult in recent years because of the concentration of infiltrators in the area. I will do all I can to help and return a sense of safety for local residents.”

Doron Abrahami, one of the activists, said “the fact that Ohana came here on his first day speaks for itself. We were invisible to [former Interior Security Minister Gilad] Erdan and I hope that this is a new beginning where the police won’t regard us as the enemy but as partners.”

Also on his first day on the job, Ohana visited a police academy in Beit Shemesh and met with police officers in the city. He said a pending decision on naming a permanent police commissioner “is a dramatic and important one that I hope to make swiftly, but not hastily.”

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