South Tel Aviv realtors: We won’t rent to ‘infiltrators’

NGO: Asylum-seekers are not infiltrators, they are legal ayslum seekers

By RON FRIEDMAN
August 4, 2010 03:31
Ethiopian olim.

Ethiopian olim. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Racial tensions continue to rise in south Tel Aviv.

On Monday, a coalition of real estate agents and landlords who deal in apartments in the neighborhoods of Shapira, Kiryat Shalom and Tel Kabir signed a petition vowing not to rent apartments to African asylum-seekers, or as they call them, infiltrators.

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The petition, so far signed by 11 realtors, was published a month after 25 local rabbis signed a similar petition calling on their followers not to rent rooms to illegal foreign workers.

The new petition reads: “Following the massive entry of infiltrators into the neighborhoods and following the rabbis’ call not to rent apartments to illegal foreign workers, we, the realtors, hereby declare that in order to stem the spread of the phenomenon, we will not rent apartments to infiltrators in the neighborhoods of Kiryat Shalom and Tel Kabir.”

Both petitions were produced by Tel Aviv councilman Binyamin Babayof, a Shas representative with a large constituency in the southern neighborhoods.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Babayof said the initiative grew from the residents.

“Some of the residents approached me and took me on a tour of the neighborhoods. Even though I live in Shapira, I had no idea of the magnitude of the problem,” Babayof said. “On any given evening you can see large groups of infiltrators loitering around the neighborhood drinking alcohol and making a nuisance. Many of the residents here are older and it has reached a stage that they fear for their personal safety.”

Babayof said that after his initial involvement in organizing the petitions, he had left the initiative in the hands of residents and local activists.

Alon Yisraelov, owner and manager of Alon Real Estate and a signatory of the new petition, said that residents approached him on the matter. With his office located in Shapira and his home in Kiryat Shalom, Yisraelov said he was well aware of the problem with the migrants.

“This is a problem on a national scale and it is up to the country’s leaders to take care of it. [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Minister of Interior Eli] Yishai are aware of the issue, but do nothing about it. Everywhere you go you see nothing but infiltrators.”

Yisraelov said he had the right to rent his apartments to whoever he wanted and stressed that he only refused to rent rooms to “people who are illegal.”

“I am not a racist and I don’t discriminate. If they have legal permits I’ll rent to them,” he said.

Yisraelov said that in the past he had rented apartments to two African migrants who had showed him their permits, and when he came to inspect the apartment, discovered that there were eight people living there and none had a permit.

“This is a matter of the law, not a matter of racism. I urge anyone who calls me a racist to invite some of the infiltrators to their own neighborhood and talk to me afterward,” he said.

Poriya Gal, who works for the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said Yisraelov’s statements don’t pass muster.

“There is a lot of demagoguery in these initiatives and the things they say aren’t necessarily plausible. To begin with, the petition states that they won’t rent rooms to illegal foreign workers, but in effect they discriminate against asylum-seekers. These are two distinct populations and any attempt to blend them is misrepresenting the truth,” Gal said.

“The term ‘illegal foreign workers’ relates to foreign nationals who entered Israel for the purpose of work and who either overstayed their visa or entered the country on a tourist visa and remained here to work. Asylum-seekers, or ‘infiltrators’ as they call them, are people who crossed the border from Egypt, in many cases while endangering their lives, and all of them carry government-issued visas, which provide them with temporary legal status in the country.”

Gal said the attempt to treat the two populations as one was either a result of confusion or of a deliberate intention to mislead.

“The realtors aren’t the only ones who lack nuance; we often hear politicians use the same misleading terminology in their statements too,” she said.

“In any case, what worries people like Babayof is not the legal status of the migrants, but their nationality, religion or skin color. I highly doubt anyone even looks at their permits,” Gal said.

Nic Shlagman, communications director for the Tel Aviv-based African Refugee Development Center, said that while there were examples of good neighborly relations and assistance to the asylum-seekers by residents, there was also a vocal segment of the local population who, out of fear of the changing nature of their neighborhood, drum up antagonism using racist language.

“The situation in the neighborhoods provides a fertile ground for local and national politicians to gain support by uttering anti-migrant slogans,” he said.

Shlagman said he believed that the realtors’ petition would not have a large effect.

“In the end money will be the decisive factor, and it is in the landlords’ interest to rent to the refugees. The landlords receive more money from them than they would from Israelis because they charge per person and not for the unit as a whole. They can make more renting a unit to eight or nine people at NIS 100 a week [each] than they can from an Israeli family,” he said.

Shlagman said that despite the limited effect of the petition, he was worried about the escalation in tensions and that the antagonism had switched from words to actions.

“These types of practical steps, if followed through on, will make people’s lives harder and only increase animosity. People have to come to grips with the fact that the refugees are here and they won’t be leaving in the near future, and instead of fear mongering, work toward improving communications between the two communities,” he said.

“As long as Israel does not have a comprehensive solution to the asylum-seekers, and none is currently in sight, they will continue arriving and they will continue to migrate to Tel Aviv. This is where their community lives and this is where the government sends them when they release them from jail.”

Shlagman said that the African Refugee Development Center and other aid groups were working on improving ties between the local and migrant communities and hoped to engage the leadership of both sides in productive dialogue.

Nachman Shechter, chairman of the National Realtors Organization, said trying to prevent the renting of apartments to any population was “stupidity plain and simple.”

“I would be outraged to hear of such an initiative against Jews anywhere in the world and I feel the same way in this case. You might not like the people, but once the government decided that they could stay, at least temporarily, you have to honor the decision. As a Jew whose parents experienced terrible discrimination in Europe and knowing the discrimination that Jews experienced in the Middle East, it sickens me to see such signs hung up in Israel,” Shechter said.

“Unfortunately, there is no law that forbids them from doing it. The realtors organization is not a statutory body and we don’t have a code of ethics that governs our work. The Knesset Realtors Law is a piece of dry legislation that says nothing at all about discrimination."

“The only thing I can do is condemn the initiative in the strongest possible terms and urge the realtors to smarten up.”


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