Inside out: Political realities in south Tel Aviv

Residents of poorer neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv have been in headlines for past few weeks as tensions mount.

Tel Aviv skyline 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Tel Aviv skyline 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The residents of the poorer neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv – Hatikva, Shapira, Florentin, Ha’argazim, Kfar Shalem and Kiryat Shalom – have been in the headlines for the past few weeks in the wake of mounting tensions between the Israelis and the African migrants who live in those neighborhoods.
A number of violent incidents were recorded in and around the large demonstration that was held there early last week, in the course of which Africans were assaulted and their homes, cars and shops vandalized. That demonstration was preceded and followed by reported assaults, robberies and at least one case of rape allegedly committed by Africans against Israelis in those neighborhoods.
The media’s attention was drawn to the south Tel Aviv demonstration last week not only because of the spike in violence, but also due to the inflammatory statements made by MKs who addressed the crowd. MK Miri Regev of the Likud party in particular drew criticism after saying that “the Sudanese are a cancer” in Israel. She was lambasted for her miserable choice of imagery, which sent chills up the spines of many Israelis because of its historical associations with anti- Semitic Nazi rhetoric.
INTERIOR MINISTER Eli Yishai also stepped prominently into the fray, organizing repeated photo-ops for himself in which he spoke out vehemently about the need to arrest, imprison and deport Sudanese and other African migrants.
Curiously – or perhaps not so curiously – Regev and Danny Danon, who also addressed the crowd, are members of the governing Likud party, while Yishai is a member of the powerful “forum of eight,” the leader of a senior coalition partner and, ironically, the minister responsible for immigration.
The coalition government to which they belong has been in power for more than three years, in the course of which little has been done to alleviate the problems posed by the influx of thousands upon thousands of African migrants into the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv.
It is true that the decision to construct a formidable fence along the Egyptian border was made and subsequently expedited by the current government. However, the central impetus for undertaking that costly project was and remains the security threat from Sinai in the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall, and not stopping the migrants.
The difficulties faced by the poor Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv go well beyond personal safety and public sanitation that have been exacerbated in recent years by the ballooning African population in their midst. Among other things, inadequate education, crime and the cost of living have always weighed heavily on those Tel Avivians who belong to the weaker strata of Israeli society, and have held them back, irrespective of the migrants.
The current government’s domestic priorities, however, clearly do not lie in south Tel Aviv. Most saliently, perhaps, the government has prioritized the settlements and placating their residents and supporters.
Minister Benny Begin provided an excellent example when he offered in the government’s name to relocate the residents of Migron to a nearby hilltop, the minimum cost of which was estimated to be NIS 53 million.
It goes without saying that had the residents of Migron been any other group of Israelis who had chosen to build illegally on privately owned land, say in Herzliya or Caesarea, they would have been forcibly evicted long ago. The government certainly wouldn’t have paid for roads, electricity, water, security and other services for the squatters, and it would never have offered to foot the bill for alternate housing.
Why has the Netanyahu government been so generous with the squatters from Migron? Because it is afraid of alienating its right-wing base and the ideological supporters of the settlement enterprise, which could cost it its grip on power.
Why has it been so ungenerous in its response to the needs of the residents of south Tel Aviv? Because it isn’t afraid of alienating them. The partners of the coalition are confident that they will receive their votes in any event.
The politicians have ample empirical evidence to support that premise.
According to statistics published by the Tel Aviv Municipality, among the parties that won the strongest support in the most recent general elections from voters in Tel Aviv’s eighth and ninth districts – the city’s poverty-stricken southern neighborhoods, not including Jaffa – were the Likud, Shas and Yisrael Beytenu.
All of those parties have contributed actively to drafting and executing the government’s policy of prioritizing settler welfare over the welfare of the residents of south Tel Aviv. Those parties had similarly strong showings in the previous elections as well. So why should they invest in south Tel Aviv if the voters there are already in their pockets? Be the emotional and psychological reasons for those voting patterns as they may, their predictability ultimately work to the detriment of the residents of Hatikva and the other southern neighborhoods.
If the residents of south Tel Aviv wish to have a government that truly cares for them and which is not prepared to make do with the vapid and hypocritical fulminations of Regev, Danon and Yishai, they need to make the politicians in the government afraid of losing their support.
The Israelis who live in south Tel Aviv got the government’s attention with their angry demonstration and the incidental violence that accompanied it. On its own, however, that is probably not enough to prompt Netanyahu, Yishai and Liberman into taking real action and to stop prioritizing the settlers over them. If they, like the residents of neglected development towns, want to force the government into investing in them, they need to make a credible threat to do the one thing politicians fear most: voting them out of office.