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Red Rag weekly column: Xenophobia
By: Gideon Spiro
27 May 2012 (English translation 3 June)


A few days ago the television news showed the leader of the Greek neo-Nazi party marching quickly towards some event, yelling “I want them out of my country.” “Them” meaning the foreigners who are in Greece today. At about the same time the Interior Minister of Israel, Eli Yishai of the right-wing religious party Shas, appeared on Israeli television and said similar things about asylum-seekers from Darfur, Southern Sudan and Eritrea: exclude them and expel them. MK Danny Danon of the Likud set up an association called “Expulsion Now” and Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to terrify the public with a forecast of six hundred thousand “infiltrators” (I prefer the term `asylum-seekers`).

Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea, live in Tel Aviv today. They live in the southern neighbourhoods of the city, which are home to the poorest classes in Israel. The addition of tens of thousands of people to those neighbourhoods without adequate infrastructure, along with the ban on working that the government of Israel has imposed on asylum-seekers has created fruitful soil for tension and incitement between the locals and the asylum-seekers. Many of the asylum-seekers live under conditions of hardship that are harmful to health, sometimes 20 to a room. Others sleep outdoors because they have not been able to find shelter.

It seems to me that the government of Israel could have prevented these tensions and hostilities if it had taken the trouble to absorb them with housing and work.

The policy of the government has been to let two trains roll towards each other on the same track, until the inevitable collision. All that is needed to set the region on fire are a few pyromaniacs who will ignite the residents of the neighbourhoods against black-skinned people, and there is no shortage of such types on the Right. The arrest of three Eritreans on suspicion of raping a Jewish woman who lives in the neighbourhood was the signal for one of the worst campaigns of incitement in the history of Israel. In a demonstration that took place in the southern neighbourhoods to demand the expulsion of the asylum-seekers, Knesset Members of the extreme Right spoke in a way that reminded many of what happened in Germany in the 1930’s. MK Miri Regev, a member of the Prime Minister’s party, in the past the Spokeswoman of the Israeli Army with the rank of Brigadier-General, called the Sudanese “a cancer in the body of Israeli society.” A female demonstrator strode around a in a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Death to Sudanese”. Interior Minister Eli Yishai accused them of spreading diseases. Neighbourhood residents accused the asylum-seekers of violence that forces the residents to confine themselves to their homes after dark.

Other Knesset Members turned all the Sudanese into rapists who harm the honour of Jewish women. In such an atmosphere it is no wonder that the demonstration developed rapidly into a pogrom against asylum-seekers. Every black-skinned person, even if they were not from Sudan or Eritrea, became a target for attack by the angry, inflamed and incited mob. Windows of asylum-seekers’ shops were smashed and the shops were looted. Wednesday 23 May 2012 will be remembered as one of the most shameful days in the history of Israel: a miniature Krystallnacht. In such a situation the inciters and incited are in no state of mind to confront the facts. A police spokesman announced that the level of crime among migrant workers is low in comparison to the Israeli crime rate.

Nearly every day the media report on rapes. In the vast majority of the cases there no connection to asylum-seekers. Rapists belong in prison for many years. Rape is one of the most henious crimes in the statute-book. It matters not where the rapist came from or his nationality, religion or skin-colour. They are all despicable. What is being done in Israel is the sin of generalization, collective negative labeling. As Oscar Olivier from Congo, an impressive man who has been in Israel for 18 years, said: “I now bear the guilt of the rapist because of the colour of my skin – and that’s exactly what you suffered from in the 1930s in Germany.” The government of Israel and the Chief Rabbinate have forgotten the commandment to treat the stranger fairly, as is written in the Book of Leviticus: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The liar

In the atmosphere of McCarthyism that prevails today in Israel, it was only natural that the campaign of incitement against asylum-seekers from Africa would drift towards similar condemnation of human-rights organizations, which in the view of the Right, especially the neo-Nazi extreme Right, are all actively serving the enemy. Members of and activists in human-rights organizations seen by the Right as leftists who should be put on trial for treason.

Dr. Guy Bechor is an Orientalist who serves as head of the Middle East Studies section at Herzliya College (“Interdisciplinary Centre”). He has enlisted in the service of the Right’s project to delegitimize human-rights organizations. In an article he posted on his blog he accuses the human-rights organizations of encouraging immigration from Africa to Israel, especially from Muslim Africa, with the objective of creating here a critical mass of a million Muslim Africans upon whom they will then struggle for Israeli citizenship to be conferred in the framework of the idea of “a state of all its citizens”, thereby converting Israel into a Muslim republic. The Arab states, according to Guy Bechor, can watch with satisfaction from the side as their task of eliminating Israel is done by human-rights organizations. That mendacious and inciteful representation is very much a blood-libel in the tradition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with the same level of truthfulness.

As a member of several human-rights organizations, I know myself, of course, but also a substantial number of other human-rights activists. Most of us are secular people who do not want to see a religious republic of any kind here, and our hearts and minds reach out for a secular democratic state. None of us concern ourselves with encouraging immigration to Israel, neither from Africa nor from anywhere else, nor do any of us disagree that all as long as planet Earth has not been declared one geographical unit and state with freedom of movement for everyone, every state has the right to set immigration policy. No human-rights organization came out against the building of the border fence with Egypt. The idea of a state of all its citizens, a principle that scares so many people in Israel, is totally unrelated to the subject of the composition of this or that demographic majority. The democratic and universal principle of a state of all its citizens – that is, a state that in which there are not two classes of citizens, first class and second class – also applies when the majority is Jewish.

Whoever is fearful for the Jewish majority in the State of Israel needs to call to task the governments of Israel and the leaders of the settlers, who have rendered the two-state solution nearly impossible to implement. In such a state of affairs Israel can continue to implement the policy of the Occupation and apartheid for a limited time until it becomes an international leper, or annexes the Territories and gives civil rights to all the Palestinians between the River and the Sea. Thanks to the Occupation and the settlements, the Jewish democratic State has departed from this world.

Back to the subject of the asylum-seekers: the activities of human-rights organizations on this are based on the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed at the UN on 10 December 1948 as one of the lessons of the Holocaust. On the basis of that Declaration every human being has basic rights. When asylum-seekers from tyrannical states come to Israel, they are entitled to the same basic rights and the role of human-rights organizations is to ensure that they receive them. They are entitled to be treated with solidarity, and if that’s too hard for you, then settle for empathy. They do not belong in the detention facilities that Israel is now building for them, nor crammed into poor neighbourhoods. They should be housed in caravilla sites like the settlers who were evacuated from Gaza, and given permits to work for their livings so they do not become a burden on the public. Meanwhile it is to be hoped that the situation in their countries of origin improves and they can all go back home. That is what is to be expected of a state so many of whose citizens are former refugees.

Speaking Orwellian

This year too, the 45th year of the Occupation, the strange holiday called “Jerusalem Unification day” was commemorated. The sanitized Orwellian language of the Occupation rules on that day. The holiday is ludicrous and weird, because it is precisely on that very day that the extent to which Jerusalem is not unified is forcefully demonstrated. Israeli governments and mayors have always treated Palestinian Jerusalem like an occupied territory, even though it is formally annexed to Israel. Apart from touristic areas, Palestinian Jerusalem is discriminated against in every possible parameter: in infrastructure, health, education, housing, employment and more. From a vibrant city that was the commercial and cultural centre of the West Bank, East Jerusalem has effectively turned into a ghost-town. Palestinians pay property-taxes like Jews, but they receive services like the Third World. The hardships in the east of the city are many and there is no saviour. Israel has succeeded by means of the Apartheid Wall in cutting off Palestinian Jerusalem from its natural hinterland in the West Bank.

Jerusalem Day is intended above all to provoke the Palestinian population. The settlers stage flag-marches that pass through the deserted streets of Palestinian Jerusalem. Many Palestinians know that on that day it is better that they be concealed in their houses for fear of attack by the scoundrels who yell Nazi slogans like “Death to Arabs.”
Jerusalem Unification Day is actually the day of its division.

Well done!

South Africa has decided to specially label produce from the settlements, because it comes from a zone where a regime of apartheid is in place. That produce, the fruit of land-robbery in the Occupied Territories, should be boycotted. I hope the South African example will be followed by other countries as well. In any case, South Africa is to be commended.

Taking their toys away from them

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Barak are in a melancholic mood. They are going around with gloomy faces because they are faced with a terribly dangerous prospect: there is a chance of an agreement with Iran. The eyes of their souls have already seen the winds of the wonderful war they had dreamed about and are still dreaming about, and it is being snatched away from them after they wasted tens of millions of shekels preparing for it, now all going down the drain. Who will come to their aid?

Return to Munich 1972

A few days ago I read a newspaper report about the widow of one of the athletes who was murdered in the Munich Olympics, who requested of the International Olympic Committee that an official event be held at the next Olympics in London in memory of the 11 athletes who were murdered in Munich. Her request was denied. More’s the pity.

The story brought me back to the days of the Munich Olympics in 1972. I was in Munich then, and as the editor of a student newspaper I received press credentials. After the murder of the athletes there was a lively discussion about whether to continue the Olympics or to stop them. In the end it was decided to stop the Games for one day, in which there would be a memorial ceremony in the Olympic Stadium. I was at that ceremony and I remember the impressive speech by Chancellor Willy Brandt. I was then, and assume I still am today, among the few who believed that there it was not necessary to use firearms. The Germans were inclined at first to allow the group of kidnappers to leave Germany with the abductees, but Prime Minister Golda Meir sent the head of the Mossad to Germany to who implored the Germans not to allow the abductors to leave, and to initiate an armed rescue operation instead. We all know the result: 11 were killed. I said these words then, September 1972, in an interview with the German newspaper Sud-Deutsche Zeitung.

If they had done as I thought they should, the athletes would have been exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and all of them would still be alive.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent.

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