The Migrants Aren't the Problem- Israel's Racism Is

Israel should allow the migrants already here to rebuild their lives, and offer them the prospect of becoming citizens. That’s how it’s done in normal countries.

Israeli public opinion is being shaped by a grotesque Knesset member who has become a joke and a former MK whose party didn’t get enough votes to make it into the legislature. If it weren’t so sad, we’d be laughing until we cried. But now our tears should be over the unbelievable fact that these two marginal characters, these clowns, MK Miri Regev (Likud) and Michael Ben Ari, have, with their hateful incitement, succeeded in dictating the national agenda on the issue of African migrants and asylum seekers. From now on we’ll have to choose: Either you support the refugees, or you support the state (and the longtime residents of south Tel Aviv). Who decided that? Regev and Ben Ari.

We’re all Regev and Ben Ari now. The consensus reflects their racist spirit and populist language. It’s Israel vs. the migrants. Some 50,000-60,000 Africans have turned into a national problem and existential threat.

Xenophobes exist in every country, but they achieve legitimacy in very few of them, and in fewer still has their discourse become government policy. From their heights Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has never been caught expressing compassion, and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who seems to enjoy being cruel, project the kind of attitude that in Europe comes from down below, from gangs of skinheads. The sad and inevitable conclusion is that Israeli society is so tainted by racism that the agitators of the extreme right reflect its spirit almost without question.

It is indisputable that in most hearts – assuming there are any left – the perception has taken hold that these unfortunate Africans must be gotten rid of, in any way or by any means. The attitude is that they aren’t really human beings, that they cannot be rehabilitated in Israel and there is no place for them here, that they bring us only crime and disease. We believe it’s permissible to abuse them, humiliate them and increase their misery without limit; that they can be incarcerated without trial; that we can ignore international conventions and obtusely and cruelly ignore their humanitarian plight. We think it’s proper to appoint a “project manager” to arrange their expulsion and set up a “lodging facility” to detain them until the national deportation initiative succeeds and our camp will once again be pure.

The most diabolical plan of all is the “third country” solution – to throw them at some African state whose leaders will be bribed to take them in. What’s the problem with sending a Sudanese to Uganda? He’s black, they’re black, they’ll work it out.

This time the issue is not security, Israel’s state religion. Nor are still talking about a flood of refugees, because the border with Egypt has been closed. So the only explanation for this disgraceful treatment lies in the national psyche. The migrants’ color is the problem. A million immigrants from Russia, a third of them non-Jews, some of whom were also found to have a degree of alcohol and crime in their blood, were not a problem. Tens of thousands of Africans are the ultimate threat.

From the way people talk you’d think the area surrounding Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station was an upscale neighborhood, with peaceful streets and green lawns, until the blacks came and trashed it. You’d think that if not for them Israel would have no crime and no social problems. Because that how xenophobia works, all of society’s ills are blamed on the foreigners. No one cares about the facts, that’s what incitement’s all about.

The Knesset Research and Information Center published two studies, in 2010 and 2011, showing that the crime rate among the migrants is below the national average. So what? And while it’s true that since then this crime rate has doubled, what did we expect? That we could prevent them from working and living with dignity, and crime wouldn’t increase? That we could shut them up in ghettos and treat them like human shadows and they wouldn’t take to the streets? Where would they go, if not to the disadvantaged neighborhoods, when the state bars them from working? Israel is denying them a living? Can a state that took in millions of immigrants and imports tens of thousands of foreign workers, but which mistreats African migrants be anything but racist? Look at its attitude toward Ethiopian immigrants, and you’ll understand.

It’s Israel that made the African migrants a problem. That’s what incitement does. Since the border is closed and international conventions bar their deportation, the state should allow those already here to work, to rebuild their lives, and offer them the prospect of becoming citizens through a gradual, careful process. That’s how it’s done in normal countries.

Israel is too small, too weak to do this? Nonsense, merely too racist.

Olivier Fitoussi