Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s decision to meet, on his very first day in office, with activists from south Tel Aviv who seek to deport asylum seekers was both populist and provocative. In a clip posted to Facebook by one of the activists, Sheffi Paz, Ohana can be seen telling her, “Before you yell, give me a hug.” Other activists seeking to deport asylum seekers also got a ministerial embrace. And Ohana’s investment paid immediate dividends: “There are moments you have to immortalize,” Paz wrote.
Over the past two years, Paz has been indicted twice for spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Tel Aviv, including the European Union’s offices in Israel. When Ohana chose to hug her publicly, he was choosing to support someone who incites incessantly against asylum seekers while also prima facie breaking the law.
During his visit, Ohana also met with senior police officers from the Tel Aviv District as well as officers from the city’s Yiftah sub-district. Pro-deportation activists have been battling these officers for the last two years, ever since Tel Aviv police chief David Bitan assumed the post, charging that the police turn a blind eye to crimes by asylum seekers. What message does the minister responsible for the police send when he gives backing to someone who wages nonstop war against them?
Just as he did against the prosecution in his previous role as justice minister, Ohana has engaged in provocations toward the police from the moment he entered his new job. And don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s supporting the interests of the weak facing oppression by the authorities. Ohana represents nothing but his own interests and those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom seek to reap political capital at the expense of the weakest people in Israel.
The government’s policy toward asylum seekers is warped and devoid of compassion. These traits were epitomized by Netanyahu’s decision to scrap a plan he and Interior Minister Arye Dery had negotiated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, under which 40 percent of the asylum seekers would have been relocated from Israel to safe third countries. This could have been an ideal solution for both the asylum seekers and residents of south Tel Aviv, where nearly half of the roughly 30,000 asylum seekers live. Ohana’s decision to launch his term with this visit shows that his appointment wasn’t intended to solve the problems of either the residents or the asylum seekers, but rather to create new problems.