Asylum Seekers in Israel: Two Worlds, One Reality

Sugar cane, coffee beans, microchips - they all come to Israel from the same countries that African asylum seekers in Israel have fled from.

Sunday morning on Levinsky Street in Tel Aviv: Dozens of Israelis congregate around the small stalls, stuffing sugar, coffee, chocolate and counterfeit iPhone cases into colorful plastic baskets. Across the street, dozens of African migrants are sitting in a park with nothing to do, waiting for the next short-lived employer to urge them to come quickly ("Chik chak!" he'll say ) for one odd job or another. A headline in a newspaper lying forgotten on a bench at the nearby central bus station blares, "What are we going to do with the infiltrators?"

Thin, invisible lines - the strong links of cause and effect - tie these two supposedly separate groups wandering around Levinsky Street together, but no one seems to notice them. Where did these products, hastily wrapped up in used plastic bags, come from? And what about this tired man stretched out on the grass, wearing a shirt that's too small?

We want to own an iPhone, but don't want to know the living conditions of the Chinese worker who made it. We want to down the double espresso that comes from the small shiny capsules we put in our new machine, not to mention the chocolate we picked up in the duty-free store at the airport, but we don't bother to look for the fair trade pledge on the package. We post Facebook photos of ourselves crossing the starting line of the Tel Aviv marathon, with the logo of a sporting goods company in the background, but we have no idea who put together the sole of the shoe, or where.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argued in the 1990s that no two countries with a McDonald's franchise had ever gone to war with one another. What Friedman should have said is that every country with a McDonald's will also have a refugee or migrant worker, probably in the kitchen somewhere. The direct link between Western-style economies and migration from third-world countries cannot be ignored, and Israel cannot be excluded from this simple statement. Sugar cane, cocoa and coffee beans, microchips - they all come to us from the same countries from which the African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv and elsewhere have fled.

The debate about asylum seekers in Israel cannot be conducted while ignoring the fact that we have played a significant role in their arrival to our shores. Not just because we consume products every day whose production entails the exploitation of natural and human resources in the countries from which the people hanging out in Levinsky Park come - which exerts a decisive influence on the political and economic processes that compelled them to leave; but also because of the primary product that we export to those countries - weapons. Those weapons are at this moment flooding Africa, the continent where the tired man splayed on the grass used to live before he came here.

No fence, law or detention center will be able to protect us from the global cycle of cause and effect. Being "the Jewish state" doesn't make us immune to reality. We cannot continue buying floral-scented spray deodorant while vehemently insisting that the hole in the ozone be kind enough to refrain from expanding over our country.

Someone once gave me a long lecture on the advantages of imposing sanctions on Iran. Right afterward, he griped extensively about the sharp rise in gas prices. Those thin, invisible lines appeared once again to link the two sentiments, but the man ignored them. Oh, and he also hates illegal immigrants and likes two spoonfuls of sugar in his espresso.