“The Land of Israel for the Jews!” “The People Demand: Deport the Sudanese!”
chants sound ominous from blocks away. Bright lights and amplified sound lead
the way to the demonstration through a web of police barricades and street
construction in Shapira, a crumbling neighborhood of south Tel Aviv. A few days
earlier, a similar event turned violent as residents turned their rage against
African migrants and would-be refugees, then smashed their shop
The family that owns a dusty boureka shop greets us with mild
interest and offers us a free pastry. Their wan faces tell the story: You guys
are venturing down here now, but we live here. When you leave, we will remain –
poor, forgotten, and beset by an influx of foreigners, poorer and more desperate
For roughly a decade, these neighborhoods surrounding the
Tel Aviv Central Bus Station have absorbed waves of migrants from Africa who
enter Israel illegally across the Egyptian border, fleeing the the harsh
conditions in their own countries. Many are seeking asylum, but the state has
not yet determined their status. They are often cut loose in various Israeli
cities to await a ruling, jobless and directionless.
Recent headlines in
Israel suggest that the newcomers are responsible for a sudden upswing in
violent crimes in the areas where they have settled. Two recent high-profile
incidents of sexual crime – one rape and one attempted rape – and other lesser
crimes have set off the current protests.
However, there is no evidence
of a high crime rate among the migrants. The opposite, in fact, is true. Both
the police and the Knesset Research and Information Unit report that just over
two percent of African migrants are involved in crimes, compared to more than
double that rate among the general population.
The facts have not stopped
some right-wing politicians from fanning the flames, with Likud MK Miri Regev
describing the migrants as “a cancer.”
Some of those politicians have led
the protests here in recent days, including one that turned violent a few days
earlier. I do not see any of them in evidence tonight.
The situation is
clearly explosive, but I am unprepared for the naked racism expressed on the
streets this evening.Desperation
“It bothers me, all those blacks in
your face, they’re dirty. We’re scared to go out in our own homes – because of
,” says Ora, a 60-year-old local resident who says she has lived here
for 40 years, using a derogatory Hebrew term for black people.
crowd’s call to refrain from confrontation with the police takes on a racial
tone: “The Israel Police – they’re our blood!” At the same time, it is hard to
distinguish racism from the glaring sense of desperation.
racism – it’s survival!” declares one placard held by a protestor. Another
reads: “Human rights – not at our expense!” In response, Israeli authorities
embarked in June on a wave of highly publicized deportations of illegal
migrants, including a 6-yearold girl born in Israel to a Filipina worker who
outstayed her 5-year employment visa.
Yes, the marginalized people of
South Tel Aviv long for immediate, simple solutions.
But does the
deportation of these wretched of the earth really reflect widespread public
sentiment? At key moments in its history, Israel has given shelter and succor to
the wretched, such as the Vietnamese boat people. But they were not
So we asked a representative sample of Jewish Israelis: “Do you
support or oppose the expulsion of the African infiltrators?” Although that’s a
loaded term, we chose to ask the question with the same wording most commonly
used by the Israeli media.
The results of the poll for The Jerusalem
leave no room for doubt: three-quarters of Israelis, an unambiguous
majority, support the government policy even when it is described as
“expulsion.” Nor do the respondents back the government with a heavy heart.
Fully 45 percent expressed strong support, while 30 percent somewhat support it.
Just a small minority of 15 percent are opposed, with just six percent strongly
I searched for different attitudes among the demographic groups
of Jewish society. Perhaps among the more educated, for example, knowing that
deporting these migrants means sending them back to hell. Perhaps older people,
who often show softer views on political issues in Israel – or who might
remember the boat people – would express more compassion.
But here the
data is even more striking.
Hardly any group within the Jewish population
feels very differently. The wide majority supporting expulsion is highly
consistent, no matter what their gender, age, or socioeconomic status. The
results were so consistent across demographic groups that we searched for
technical errors. None were found.Strong support
Only two demographic
groups show minor variations. A larger percentage of Haredim and religious
respondents strongly support expulsion: 61 percent and 55 percent,
Only 38 percent of the secular respondents gave this
response, and 18 percent of secular Jews oppose the expulsion – nearly twice as
many as the religious and three times as many as the Haredim.
notable difference is between different regions of the country. The north and
the comfortable towns of the Sharon area show markedly lower support for
expulsion (65 and 63 percent, respectively) than the greater Tel Aviv area of
Gush Dan, with 79 percent, and the Jerusalem area, with 74 percent.
people in the Sharon and the North are more removed from the centers of migrant
concentration. Perhaps they view the problem in a less emotional way.
slight variation by religion most probably reflects the iron law of Israeli
religiosity correlating with left- and right-leaning ideologies.
the religious population in Israel is taking its cue from Europe, where migrants
are widely unpopular, regarding the anti-immigrant positioning. While this makes
sense, it could also have been otherwise.
Religious people, after all,
might be expected to show higher levels of compassion for the weak. And yet, it
is worth remembering that even among the secular population and those living
further from the problem, high levels in general still support
I remember that when I was small, my teacher at a Jewish day
school in Brooklyn told my class with great pride how of all the countries in
the world, Israel opened its doors first to the boat people. I remember
absorbing her pride. Her words also communicated that Israel placed great value
on giving ravaged people shelter – even when they were strangers. I imagined a
strong country, like a parent. Israel of 2012 has chosen a different path, one
that reflects people’s belief that society is too weak to help other fallen
Especially, perhaps, if they are black.