The data from the survey by the Health Ministry in cooperation with the Tel Aviv municipality, which shows the level of food security of asylum seekers living in south Tel Aviv, is a badge of shame for Israel. There is a severe humanitarian crisis right in Tel Aviv’s backyard. It is a crisis that no one cares about, and bringing it up in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel is perceived as illegitimate.
Of the 40,000 asylum seekers and labor migrants in Tel Aviv, 85 percent are suffering from a lack of food security, most of them at the most severe level – including signs of starvation. And in non-whitewashed terms: Most of the people in Tel Aviv without official status don’t have anything to eat (Haaretz, March 3).
As far back as October, groups that assist asylum seekers warned that some 80 percent of them were unemployed due to the crisis in the hospitality and restaurant industries, and many of them have lost their medical insurance. This is a group that has not been provided with the right to social protection or unemployment compensation – that is, unemployment for them means a lack of an alternative source of income or a safety net of any kind.
The organizations warned that asylum seekers as a group were on the brink of collapse. And indeed today most of them are skipping meals, and restricting the amount and type of food they consume; the adults give up food in order to give it to their children so they can all hang on.
The problem is that in the current political climate, in which the preservation of Jewish superiority is paramount in the national priorities, the government won’t touch this issue with a 10-foot pole.
The harsh data were brought to the attention of the various government ministries, but it’s hard to find someone to see to the needs of asylum seekers and labor migrants, and it’s even harder to find funding for them, because anyone who tries to do so will be branded, perish the thought, as a leftist and a hater of Israel.
Because of the fear of response from people supporting the expulsion of asylum seekers and their political partners on the right, the little action that is taken is done below the radar, informally. The burden falls almost entirely on NGOs, and they are collapsing under its weight.
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Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Labor Minister Itzik Shmuli, Community Development Minister Orli Levi-Abekasis and Justice Minister Benny Gantz, and of course Prime Minister Netanyahu – must all wake up from the nationalist nightmare in Israel now, and immediately fix the shameful way in which Israel treats the people at the bottom of the food chain.
Politically and morally, the treatment of asylum seekers requires a complete about-face in its approach, both in terms of the bureaucracy when it comes to granting status, and in granting social and health care rights. But no less important is public discourse about xenophobia and racism. No one in Israel should go hungry.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.