For a second night, residents of south Tel Aviv rallied in anger against the High Court and the local African population on Sunday, following the court’s decision last month to strike down government policy on jailing those in the country illegally.
Marching from the Hatikva neighborhood’s market to Lewinsky Park next to the central bus station, several dozen protesters chanted anti-migrant slogans, but directed most of its anger at the High Court, which they accused of circumventing Knesset legislation on migrants that has broad public support.
The march “isn’t about Left or Right, it’s about the Israeli democracy,” said Yaron, a 30-year-old resident of the Florentin neighborhood.
Shai Omer, from the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood, said he was marching because the High Court is acting in violation of the law and against the interests of the people of south Tel Aviv. Omer said African migrants robbed his father’s store in south Tel Aviv.
“These are migrant workers and their behavior is unacceptable. Every single person who will be released from Holot [detention center because of the court’s ruling] is one more robber or rapist on the street,” he said.
On September 22, the High Court ruled 7-2 that the state must close the Holot open detention center in the Negev within 90 days, and voted 6-3 to reject the constitutionality of the policy of holding newly arriving illegal migrants in the closed Saharonim detention center, also in the Negev, for one year. The clock for the requirement to check detainees’ refugee status or release within 90 days started to tick last Thursday.
The court voted unanimously to reject a counter-petition by residents of south Tel Aviv, which accused the state of not defending their rights in terms of security and health from the migrants in their neighborhoods.
The defeat for the government in last month’s ruling was considerable, considering it had only initiated the policy in December 2013, after the court struck down its previous, stricter, migrant policy in September 2013. In that 9-0 decision, the court ruled the state’s migrant policy unconstitutional, giving it 90 days to release thousands of detained migrants or to construct a new policy. A few months later, in December 2013, the state instituted a new migrant policy, which moved from placing them in closed detention for up to three years to indefinite open detention.
The Holot detention center only holds 2,300 migrants, out of a population that is widely estimated to number around 50,000 to 60,000, the Prisons Service said on Sunday.
Anti-migrant protesters often estimate the figure at 100,000 or more.
On Sunday night, the crowd of several dozen people marched to Lewinsky Park, carrying black flags with the acronym for the High Court written in white block letters.
The flags bore a rather strong resemblance to those of the Islamic State terrorist organization. Farright activist Baruch Marzel said the resemblance was incidental, if fitting.
“It’s not on purpose, but yes, the High Court scares me more than ISIS [Islamic State],” he said.
The protest bore many of the hallmarks of rallies on the issue in south Tel Aviv in recent years.
Protesters chanted slogans against Africans – some of them racial in nature – as well as virulent insults toward left-wingers, the courts, the police and the media.
Several times the procession passed groups of Africans congregating at bus stops and outside African- owned stores, at which point police would stand between the two groups, hurrying the migrants inside the stores until the marchers – shouting at them and in a few cases spitting at the windows of the stores – had passed.
At the park, a number of protesters raised an Israeli flag, only to replace it on the flagpole with the black High Court flag.
When the crowd entered the park, a Sudanese man named Nadim Omar stood silently holding a bouquet of flowers aloft. He was quickly surrounded and cursed at by a number of protesters.
Asked about his intentions, he said that the problems faced by Israelis in south Tel Aviv are not their fault or that of Africans, but rather of politicians who have refused to enact sound migration policy and have incited to racism.
He said he understands the fear Israelis in south Tel Aviv feel, and that he is also afraid for his safety and worries about being attacked by Israelis.
On Monday, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar will attend a meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee to discuss the High Court decision and the migrant issue. Also invited to the meeting are officials from the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, the Justice, Finance and Public Security ministries, and members of NGOs that support the African migrant community and residents of south Tel Aviv.