The Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the arson of an apartment building in
Jerusalem housing African migrants on Monday, a sign it is increasingly
concerned the wave of anti-migrant feeling is impacting Israel’s image abroad
and its relations with Africa.
“There is no justification for such a
heinous crime that puts people’s lives in harm’s way,” the ministry said in a
It is rare for the ministry to issue a statement about
domestic developments, and one official said this is only done when internal
events have international ramifications.
The official said that, because
of all the media attention surrounding the issue, it was turning into an
He cited a US State Department report issued at
the end of May on human rights practices that was critical of Israel’s treatment
of the African migrants.
The report negatively cited an interview
Interior Minister Eli Yishai gave in December promising to make sure “that the
last of the Sudanese, and the Eritreans, and all of the infiltrators, to the
last of them, will return to their countries.”
“This issue is not winning
us any points, not in the US or in Africa,” the official said. He said that none
of the countries of origin of the migrants with whom Israel has relations –
South Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Eritrea and Ethiopia – have summoned
Israel’s ambassador to protest. But, he said, it was causing discomfort in
relationships that are strategically important for Israel.
To halt the
smuggling of Iranian arms into Sudan, and from there to Sinai and Gaza, Israel
is especially interested in strong ties with an arc of countries in eastern
Africa running through Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and South
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking at an accountants’
conference in Eilat, said the overheated rhetoric about the migrants – whom he
characterized as seeking economic benefits, not political asylum – significantly
set back Israel’s attempts to have them repatriated.
Ministry is expending a great deal of energy to come to agreements with the
countries of origin, and every headline and interview, and all the loud noise,
sets us back half a year,” he said.
Liberman called on his fellow
ministers and on MKs to talk about the matter much less.
“All the talking
does not solve any problem,” he said.
Liberman said the issue involved
sensitivities and national honor and must be dealt with
Although Liberman did not mention Yishai by name, Foreign
Ministry sources said the ministry was furious with him for meeting Sunday with
the Eritrean ambassador to impress upon him the need to stem the flow of
migrants from his country.
“Since when does Yishai meet with
ambassadors?” one official said. “Is he now running his own foreign ministry?”
While Monday was the first time the Foreign Ministry issued a statement about
the anti-migrant wave, both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, as well as other ministers, have spoken out strongly against
“The issue of migrants and infiltrators from Africa is not a simple
one and it requires the government to address it in the most serious and
responsible manner,” the ministry statement said.
“Together with other
government branches, the Foreign Ministry is currently developing solutions to
the various and complex aspects arising from this issue, in coordination with
The statement, written both in Hebrew and in
English, said that “no person has the right to violate the law and resort to
violence against others, certainly not to endanger lives, for any reason
whatsoever. Law and ethics prohibit any injury to the other, the guest
and the foreigner. Jewish history compels us to take exceptional caution on