Netanyahu's Racism Against African Migrants by Proxy

While the prime minister remains silent, other arms of the state are busy implementing a racist agenda that threatens the lives of people who came here fleeing persecution.

Galia Oz
Galia Oz
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Galia Oz
Galia Oz

Racism kills. First they take away a people's right to work, leave them to starve without belongings in the streets and prevent them from accessing health and welfare services. Then they pollute language to dehumanize them as a group: resurrecting the blood libel to make the majority of them criminals. They say they are rapists and carriers of disease. They tell us they are "infiltrators," even though came here fleeing the darkest dictatorships and have never had their claims for asylum reviewed. And they repeat these lies over and over until they sink in.

They are aided by media outlets, which hide the magnitude of human rights violations in Eritrea and Sudan and contribute to the incitement campaigns that erupt every time a refugee commits a crime. They pass the Prevention of Infiltration Law, a boorish and discriminatory measure that permits jailing people for their entire lives for jaywalking, assuming they also happen to be Sudanese or Eritrean.

They warn from every direction that tens of thousands of refugees – rather than millions of Palestinians – threaten the future of Israel as a Jewish state. They find rational and inoffensive words to avoid discussing blood, even though it is the real issue: the fear of foreign blood, the simple and primal disgust of the ultimate "Other" who is both Muslim and black. And what will happen to the Jewish people if one of them marries a Jewish woman? What will happen if our children are forced to sit in the same classroom as his black Jewish children? Such questions are not asked aloud.

They leave south Tel Aviv to drown in overcrowding and neglect, although incentives could be introduced to encourage refugees to move to in-demand areas and work in hotels, agriculture and construction – which would save Israel from having to import tens of thousands of foreign workers on visas every year. They cynically abandon the long-time residents of the neighborhoods and cover up their failure by setting the ground on fire with incitement and demagogy. After all this, they can secretly deport one or two thousand individuals to fates of prison, torture and death. And twenty or thirty protestors may turn up on Rothschild Boulevard.

The hands are the hands of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, but the voice is the voice of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a voice the public only hears in the words and actions of those who do his bidding and never after the fact. Netanyahu's echoing silence following reports of the secret expulsion of Sudanese migrants is reminiscent of his toxic muteness after a group of youths ambushed and brutally beat an Arab street cleaner in Jaffa about two weeks ago and after a young Arab woman was attacked at a Jerusalem light rail station on Purim. His silence is not coincidental, but strategic. Aside from a single sharp rebuke of the rabbis who called on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs, Netanyahu has never condemned such extremism. He apparently feels comfortable in an atmosphere of hatred, incitement and scapegoating, where at any given moment there is at least one larger than life Other for people to unite against, be it leftist academia or a refugee riding a stolen bicycle.

Netanyahu expects other world leaders to aggressively condemn ant-Semitic attacks, but it is hard to imagine him publicly leveling criticism against those who stood by indifferently while an Arab woman was assaulted in broad daylight.

Much has been written about Munchausen syndrome by proxy, an illness that prompts people to pretend to have the illnesses of others. What is happening here is the political version of this condition: Kahanism, racist-Jewish-supremacy, by proxy. The days of Netanyahu's direct incitement against then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem's Zion Square are gone. He no longer needs to engage in verbal thuggery. Others take care of it for him. Netanyahu watches from the sidelines as Knesset members from his party compete to promote legislative initiatives against Arabs, human rights organizations and the High Court of Justice.

He kept silent when his justice minister tried to prevent Palestinians and migrants from using the court system and he remains silent while Jews are carrying out hate crimes against Arabs. He is even silent in the face of the United Nations' demands for an explanation of Israel's flagrant violation of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by deporting asylum claimants to Sudan, a dictatorship led by a man who is wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague and who has threatened to prosecute anyone who sought asylum in Israel.

The active silence is ominous for what is to come, and it should worry centrist voters and anyone who deludes themself into thinking it is Netanyahu can be moderated by a coalition government. The blood, the blood of the deported, is on the prime minister's hands. Let us not lie to ourselves: They are the victims of Kahanism, institutionalized Kahanism.

The writer directed the documentary film "Shkufim" ("Transparent") about Israelis and foreigners living in south Tel Aviv produced by Channel 1.

African migrants behind barbed wire at the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev, 2012.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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