Population Turnover in a Tel Aviv Ghetto

The government incites against a municipality that is only trying to do its job — providing services to the city’s residents — and is not responsible for their arrival.

The Shevah Mofet high school in Tel Aviv.
Ofer Vaknin

First, a terrifyingly simple fact: From the perspective of those who are pulling the strings, the uproar over Tel Aviv’s Shevah Mofet and the children who are slated to enroll in the school is a gala political ball. No one can discern the potential of jumping aboard a racing bandwagon of incitement and polarization the way the Lieberman-Netanyahu-Regev can. Once again, they are the defenders of the people, representing the real Jews against the Hellenists of Tel Aviv, whose breakfast cereal is made of gold and whose cold hearts generate pale sparks of compassion only for Arabs or blacks.

Make a recording of this simplistic incitement, which draws its theme from the efficient populism of Menachem Begin; it has been playing with undue success since 1996. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaps quick and easy profits from it, and these have now been joined by the sweet bonus of spoiling Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s great day.

Netanyahu hates Bennett more than he hates any Eritrean or leftist, or even Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

The cynics who are pulling the strings are plowing fertile ground. The fact that a school for the children of Russian immigrants, most of whom don’t live in Tel Aviv these days, has been converted into a school for black children is intolerable in a society where the hierarchy of race or ethnic origin is critical, and where Judaism or proximity to Judaism is sometimes a person’s only asset.

Bringing black asylum seekers into the family of man — treating them as human beings who must be given basic city services and are liable to occupy the seats that until now were occupied by children of migrants of Russian origin — narrows the gaps in this hierarchy of race and brings the asylum seekers closer not only to yesterday’s migrants, the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but also to those of the day before yesterday: the Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin, who are ostensibly represented by Regev.

Israel is a society of immigrants. All immigrants are migrants, for various reasons, including economic benefit and simple survival, but it’s forbidden to call them by that term, because Jews must not be compared to non-Jews. As evidence, consider the deep insult felt by Ethiopian Jewish immigrants over the recent remarks by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.

In the absence of social solidarity and a welfare-state policy, both of which have been abolished under the aegis of the right’s ideology since 1977, with cooperation from the few leftist governments that served during those years; in the absence of a shared national ethos, and left with only polarization, division and argumentativeness, which are the defining traits of the Netanyahu government’s operating system; race, Judaism and national origin have acquired a sacred status.

The asylum seekers — migrants who ought to be pitied due to the circumstances of their lives — are an existential threat that must not be allowed to climb up the food chain. Therefore, they wander about without legal status, enjoying a vague collective protective status (for instance, they don’t have work permits, but are protected from being penalized for this lack), and are ostracized along with their defenders, who are depicted as enemies of the residents of south Tel Aviv, and now also of the community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Despite Netanyahu’s warm words about Shevah Mofet, which he is now depicting as an idyllic paradise of excellence in south Tel Aviv, I remember that school in the 1990s, after the massive wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union. The many merits of the Russian ghetto, to which veteran Israelis for some reason didn’t volunteer to send their children, are now being proclaimed by its new fans in politics.

South Tel Aviv is a distressed ghetto whose residents are gradually being replaced. And all of Israeli society is one big concatenation of ghettos based on class, ethnic origins and economics. These ghettos are piled on each other in layers, with each layer trying to climb a little higher by trampling the layer below it.

A responsible government would make sure there was a single level playing field for everyone, in an effort to narrow the gaps. Today’s government incites against a municipality that is only trying to do its job — providing services to the people who live in the city — and is responsible neither for their arrival nor for the policies adopted toward them. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.