MK Michael Ben-Ari in Hatikva neighborhood 311.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Hundreds gathered at the shuk in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood Tuesday, in a raucous demonstration against the large number of African refugees and migrant workers who have made the neighborhood their home in recent years.
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Waving Israeli flags and chanting jeers against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Hatikva residents were also joined by protesters from the Shapira and Kiryat Shalom neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, which have absorbed the majority of the African population in Tel Aviv. At times the protest resembled a soccer game, with the pauses between speakers punctuated by ghetto blasters playing Mizrahi singer Eyal Golan’s hit “Me Shemamin” and Hebrew classic “Ko Haolam Kulo” put to a techno beat.
A look around the crowd revealed that large numbers of the participants had also taken part in a demonstration the night earlier in Bat Yam, held to protest Arab residents of the city and what organizers said is a large-scale attempt by Arab- Israelis to seduce and “defile” Jewish girls across Israel.
Among those present at both protests were far-right activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir, as well as National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari, who grew up in Hatikva.
Ben-Ari addressed the crowd, telling them that “when I walk in the neighborhood today, I see that we have become the foreigners.”
Ben-Ari proposed, as he has in the past, that the government move all of the Africans to the largely upperclass Ashkenazi enclave of Ramat Aviv in north Tel Aviv and alternatively suggested that he is willing to give each African $200 and a plane ticket back to their home countries.
Ben-Ari’s Ramat Aviv relocation idea was echoed by a number of speakers and protesters in the crowd who repeatedly advocated moving the Africans to there and other districts of central Israel such as Kfar Shmaryahu and Savyon.
An underlying theme of much of the comments at the rally seemed to indicate a poor, socially weak neighborhood with serious class resentment that sees itself as absorbing the consequences of the government’s failure to find a solution to the problem of illegal immigration to Israel. Residents were insistent that the protest was not racist in nature, though a number of speakers on stage as well as members of the crowd frequently threw around the word “Kushi” – a derogatory Hebrew term used to denote African origin.
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson also spoke at the protest, telling protesters he came to show show “this struggle isn’t one of extremists or racists, it is a struggle of people who want to protect Israel as a Jewish state, and a state for its citizens.”
The Hotline for Migrant Workers issued a statement ahead of the rally on Tuesday that expressed fears that “Israel is facing a wave of hate crimes, crimes whose main motive is the hatred of foreigners.”
On Saturday, three teenage girls born to African migrant parents were attacked and severely beaten by a mob of teenagers while walking to their homes in the Hatikva neighborhood.
That same night, someone tried to torch an apartment in Ashdod housing seven Sudanese citizens. The assailants set a blazing tire outside the front door of the apartment, and five of the seven residents were lightly hurt by smoke inhalation before they managed to break the burglar bars and flee through a window.
Tuesday’s protest came around four months after a group of 25 rabbis from south Tel Aviv neighborhoods released a letter warning Jews not to rent their homes to illegal immigrants and foreign workers.
The letter warned of “the halachic prohibition and the predicted danger of renting homes to these people.”
Yael Amrani, a 25-year-old resident of Hatikva, stood at the rear of the protest with her one-year-old toddler Ben-El and described the changes she said the neighborhood has gone through since she was a child.
“There was crime here before, but never at the level it is today. We see murders, stabbing, they [the Africans] come here and act like its their house, their country, it’s a catastrophe.”
When asked if the crime is really a new phenomenon in Hatikvah, long one
of Tel Aviv’s poorest, most crimeridden neighborhoods and a synonym for
Israeli urban blight, Amrani said “sure, before there were whores,
junkies, thieves, but it was never at the level it is today. We don’t
have some baseless hatred against [the Africans], it’s just that the
neighborhood has changed.
“We don’t have anywhere left to live here. The landlords have raised the
rents because the Africans are willing to pay it and there is nowhere
left for us. They live better than us and they don’t have to pay taxes
or national insurance institute.”
Shortly thereafter, the rally began to disperse as the loudspeakers began to play Hatikvah.