Strangers, go home!

A massive majority of the country supports the expulsion of illegal African migrants

Strangers, go home!  (photo credit: AVI KATZ)
Strangers, go home!
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
“The Land of Israel for the Jews!” “The People Demand: Deport the Sudanese!”
The 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 windows.
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 than anyone.
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.

“It bothers me, all those blacks in your face, they’re dirty. We’re scared to go out in our own homes – because of the kushim,” 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.
Even the 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.
“It’s not 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 black.
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 Report 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 opposed.
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, respectively.
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.
The other 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.
The 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.
The slight variation by religion most probably reflects the iron law of Israeli religiosity correlating with left- and right-leaning ideologies.
Perhaps 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 expulsion.
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 people.
Especially, perhaps, if they are black.