“I feel like I don’t live in the State of Israel anymore. I feel like I live in South Sudan, not South Tel Aviv.”



68 year old Sophie Menashe has been living in her apartment in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood of South tel Aviv for 30 years. When she first bought the apartment, she describes the neighborhood with a garden in front of the building, and all the residents were Jewish. Today, Menashe is one of many frustrated veteran South Tel Aviv residents whose neighborhoods have been taken over by an influx of thousands of African migrants.

Sophie Menashe made Aliya from India in 1953. After divorcing in ‘79, she bought her apartment in Tel Aviv, where she raised her three children on her own, and worked day and night to support them.

Most of the Jewish residents left and the building is now mostly inhabited by migrants. The building stairwell is littered with broken furniture and dirt, and at night migrants take shelter sleeping in the halls. Menashe said she is afraid to leave her apartment once it gets dark, citing the recent incident in which an 83 year old woman was raped by an Eritrean young man in South Tel Aviv.

While she can’t afford to move somewhere else, her small, fifth floor apartment is falling apart from water damage on the ceilings and walls, and there is no building committee to take responsibility for fixing the roof leaks nor for cleaning the stairwell of all the dirt left by the migrants.

“If we don't send them back, they won't leave, they will sit here,” Menashe said. “And then there are Jews who say 'oh they have children, poor them'. So what? I have children too, does anybody want to help me in my country? When I raised three children did anyone help me? I worked day and night to raise them. And today when I need help, there isn't a single person who will even look at me.”

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When asked about the recent figures released by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority showing a dramatic drop in the number of “infiltrators” entering Israel in 2012, Menashe dismissed it as irrelevant to her daily life.

“Excuse me, I live in Tel Aviv. I sit in the bus station and I see groups of them coming in. I don't know where they enter from, I'm not a politician, I don't understand politics, I only understand and only see what is happening here around me, what I have to live with.

The illegal African migrants have become an evident campaign issue for right-wing political parties such as Shas, and in particular Strong Israel, which has a party office just down the street from Menashe’s building.

Just over two weeks ago Strong Israel MK Michael Ben Ari led a protest against what he called the infiltrators, calling on the government to allow him to start the immediate detention and deportation of all African migrants.

“Ben Ari says that, but what counts is whether the government will act on it... of course there needs to be someone who will say that- that they don't need to be here.”

While she says she doesn’t think the migrants need to be imprisoned as Ben Ari advocates, Menashe still believes that they need to be sent back to their countries.

“I am not against them. They have their own country. We, the Jews, didn't have a country, we were spread out over the world. As soon as we got our own country, all the Jews came here. But why do we need to bring the Sudanese here, the Eritreans here? All of Africa here?” Menashe says she used to vote for Alignment, the previous incarnation of Labor, and then she used to be for Likud for many years. Today, she says she has no idea who to vote for and is hurt by the idea that the state of the Jews has become a home to foreigners at her own expense.

Both her sons served in the army but if they had to serve the army today, Menashe said she would not have let them. “I wouldn’t agree for my son to protect the country for the foreigners here. For the Jews, for our country, yes.”

“Believe me, I don't know who to vote for. I’ll vote for a candidate, and then once they all get their seats, they will say different things. Today I simply do not know who to vote for.”

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.

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