Racism in Israel

From the January-February 2014 issue of News & Letters:

Racism in Israel

Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Jan. 5 and 6. Most are from war-torn countries like Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Sudanese refugees cite genocidal massacres in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains as their reason for leaving home. They marched to Western embassies calling for “Freedom!” for the refugees detained in a Negev desert facility under Israel’s new anti-immigrant laws.

New “illegal immigrants” can be held for up to a year without trial, while those already resident can be held indefinitely in the Negev. Detainees are being held in harsh desert camps, lacking medical care, education or recreation facilities, and privacy.

WORKING CLASS EXPLOITED

The immigrants also staged a three-day strike. Many of them work at low-paid jobs in service industries. As a statement by activists said, “We believe this strike will demonstrate our importance to the Israeli economy and create a pressure that will cause them to change their policies.” These workers are often exploited owing to their precarious legal position.

The Israeli Right wishes to deny refugees any services, restrict their movements, and expel them. This is the stated policy of the Netanyahu government. There have been violent assaults on refugees and their supporters, especially in Tel Aviv. That the essence of this is racist to the core was seen last year when rightists cursed at and physically attacked an Ethiopian-Israeli who objected to their rhetoric. He was told, “This includes you, you son of a bitch! Go back to your country! You rape our children!”

A woman who defended him was told, “Take him to your room! You whore!”

HISTORIC CONNECTIONS

Other Israelis, opposing these racist laws, have made the connections. One young woman blocking a police vehicle said, “We have no choice. They are creating concentration camps, and if we get up and leave we are consenting to it. Seventy years ago we would have been happy if people would have blocked streets for our grandfathers and grandmothers in Europe.” This historic memory is the opposite to that of the Israeli Right, which now sees fit to embrace illegal settlements, the expulsion of Palestinians, European neo-fascists, Assad’s genocide, and the prospect of war with Iran about equally—having learned nothing at all from the Jewish history they profess to represent.

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