On Asylum Seekers, I’m a Hypocrite

I’m for the asylum seekers, but from a distance. I support their obtaining rights, as long as they get them in the neglected and discriminated parts of southern Tel Aviv.

Rogel Alpher
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Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood.
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood. Credit: Alon Ron
Rogel Alpher

I was happy with the High Court of Justice ruling which struck down for the third time (albeit only partially) the “anti-infiltration” law directed against illegal migrants, but I wouldn’t want to live with them in Neveh Sha’anan or the Hatikva quarter. As a matter of principle, I don’t care that they’re not Jewish. I don’t care about “assimilation” (it’s not a “threat” in my opinion). Those of them who have struck roots here are no less Israeli than I am. Their fate is more intertwined with mine than is the fate of Jews living in Minnesota. I support granting them citizenship. My high-school-age daughter volunteered to work in a kindergarten for their children, but I don’t want her roaming the streets of Neveh Sha’anan at night.

When she has children, I don’t want them to go to a kindergarten in which most of the kids are children of Eritreans and Sudanese (of course, one fig leaf per class is always nice). Like many members of the white caste, consisting of liberals, lefties and tolerant people, as well as other champions of human rights, deep inside I welcome not only the court’s decision but also the fact that the migrants didn’t infiltrate en masse into my apartment building. I’m for them, but from a distance. I support their obtaining rights, as long as they get them in the neglected and discriminated parts of southern Tel Aviv. I want them to live here but I don’t want to live with them. Let someone else do that. I’m a hypocrite.

To my shame, the distress of these Eritreans and Sudanese bothers my conscience more than the long-standing distress of the residents of southern Tel Aviv, who are victims of methodical discrimination by the establishment – in infrastructure, resources, education and municipal investment in improving the quality of life. When an Eritrean is placed in the detention facility in Holot I’m annoyed, but I’m not annoyed enough in comparison with the reality faced by residents of south Tel Aviv. This reality is unfolding only a short distance from my home, in “Little Tel Aviv.” What does “southern Tel Aviv” mean? It’s a stone’s throw away from the Maariv Bridge, whose fate is now of more interest to us than that of the residents of Neveh Sha’anan and the Hatikva quarter. The pedestrian mall in Neveh Sha’anan is so close to the city center that it’s amazing that the neighborhood’s residents take care not to invade the adjacent prosperous streets. They leave Rothschild Boulevard to the bleeding hearts who fully support their right to live in Neveh Sha’anan.

Every Saturday morning I travel with my autistic son through Neveh Sha’anan and Chelnov Streets to the studio in which he draws. He’s always impressed by the Africans marching to their houses of prayer, all dressed in white. They stick out from afar, leaving a powerful impression. In contrast, the veteran residents of the neighborhood are transparent. On our way to the studio we don’t notice their existence. It’s easy to accuse them of malevolent racism, since it’s easy for us to be enlightened as we observe two communities of weaker people squabble over some poor living space. It’s easy for us to preach for solidarity of the weak and an alliance of the discriminated, because we are powerful.

Middle-class people are always the best socialists. They happily enlist in the fight for an Eritrean, but have no empathy for the narrow-minded, ultra-nationalist, tradition-embracing, Likud-voting Mizrahi woman with the megaphone. They don’t see her suffering, or her demographic, real-estate-linked transfer to increasingly difficult neighborhoods. They don’t see the paltry amount she’ll get for selling her apartment in a neighborhood in which real-estate values will skyrocket following huge investments that will come only after she is forced to leave. If the Eritreans move to [the affluent neighborhood of] Ramat Aviv, we’ll have a lot of empathy for ourselves.

The High Court won’t help Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods. These get a raw deal every day without any need for legislation, through economic realities. Until we enlist in a fight for them, the left has no chance of recovering.

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