The Israeli Minister Who Bullies Migrant Children

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Avigdor Lieberman, June 9, 2016.
Avigdor Lieberman, June 9, 2016.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be taking his time about liquidating Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh and bringing about the collapse of Hamas in the Gaza Strip – just some of the things he promised to do if he ever got back into the government – but when it comes to other enemies, he’s undaunted. These enemies are the children of asylum seekers: Youngsters from infants to six­-year-olds, who are held in so-called “child warehouses” in south Tel Aviv – makeshift day care facilities in which 15 children have died over the past five years due to the atrocious conditions.

Lieberman has instructed Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot to cancel the volunteer activities that some soldiers were involved in, consisting mainly of playing with these children in south Tel Aviv’s public parks. He was responding to heavy pressure exerted on various MKs and ministers by those who oppose the asylum seekers’ presence in south Tel Aviv. The soldiers’ activities, which included taking the children out of those suffocating “warehouses” for two to three hours, were described by Lieberman’s office as being “activities about which there’s a public dispute … especially when in this case it involves activities with a population that isn’t residing here lawfully.”

Aside from the fact that this population “that isn’t residing here lawfully,” as Lieberman’s office put it, includes people that cannot be deported because of the non-refoulement principle, which forbids deporting someone to a country where his life or liberty would be at risk, Lieberman’s decision reflects an incomprehensible insensitivity. Even if their parents’ status is controversial – and it’s controversial only because the state is evading a solution – taking this out on helpless children growing up in sub-standard conditions borders on evil.

The reason given by Lieberman is similar to the answer provided by his deputy, Eli Ben-Dahan, who had earlier also asked Eisenkot to stop the initiative. “It’s more appropriate that Israel Defense Forces soldiers act according to the concept of ‘the poor of your city take precedence,’ and help out Holocaust survivors, the needy and the elderly,” Lieberman said.

This explanation masks racism as social concern. Soldiers and civilians should be encouraged to volunteer wherever there is a need. The poor of the city include the children of asylum seekers and anyone willing to help them should not be prevented from doing so. One can – and should – encourage volunteer work to help a variety of populations, without (again) inciting against asylum seekers and ostracizing them.

The defense minister’s decision, and the mobilization of right-wing MKs for such a contemptible cause – cutting off modest assistance to children in need – sets a new record for the government’s dehumanization of the asylum seekers. It’s also a new record for racism, abominable morals and cruelty.

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