Open Zion

05.24.12

Sound of Silence

God knows, Israel is not the first country struggling to deal with unwanted immigrants. I doubt there’s a single first world nation where an influx of migrants from the global south has not sparked public hatred. Anti-Zionists love suggesting that there is something in Zionism itself that leads residents of south Tel Aviv to revile the Sudanese and Eritreans who have arrived in their midst. But last I checked, neither Jean-Marie Le Pen, Filip Dewinter nor Joe Arpaio learned their nativism from reading Jabotinsky.

So yes, what happened yesterday in the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv has happened in other countries with swelling immigrant populations, some of which don’t get as much international flak as does Israel, which is unfair. And yes, what happened yesterday in the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv stems, in part, from the legitimate grievances of poor native-born Israelis forced to disproportionately bear immigration’s burden. (It’s always that way.)

Still, last night in the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv, what began as an anti-immigration rally turned into a race riot. Here’s Haaretz:

Some people attacked Africans that passed by. Others smashed the windows of a grocery store serving the migrant worker community and looted it. Another group of demonstrators stopped a shuttle taxi and searched for migrant workers among the passengers, while banging on the windows.

+972 adds:

Protesters attacked a car passing by carrying African immigrants, smashing its windows. Shops associated with the African community were vandalized.

This photo sums it up. (The Israeli flag is a particularly grotesque touch.) 

Was this a government-sponsored pogrom? No, the police did protect some terrified immigrants and arrest some anti-immigrant rioters. But neither was the violence entirely spontaneous. The rally was organized by a disciple of Meir Kahane who sits in the Knesset, Michael Ben Ari. One of the speakers, Miri Regev, a Knesset member from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, called Sudanese immigrants “a cancer in our body.” Deputy Speaker Danny Danon, also from Likud (and a recent contributor to Open Zion), wrote on Facebook that “Israel is at war” and that “infiltrators are a national plague.” A reviled, powerless minority discussed in the language of war and disease? Where have my Jewish ears heard that before?

Last night, looking for a little moral outrage, I went to the Anti-Defamation League’s website, since they’ve done good work on anti-immigrant racism in Europe and the United States. Nothing doing. The top stories were on Holocaust denial in Greece, the Rutgers spying case and school bullying. I tried the American Jewish Committee, whose mission is to “advance human rights and democratic values in the United States and around the world.” Nada. Their featured stories were about Memorial Day, Iran and black-Jewish cooperation for civil rights (ah, the irony). How about AIPAC, which declares that America and Israel are natural allies because “both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom… Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being.” Nope. Or the Presidents’ Conference, which aims to “enhance the security and dignity of Jews.” Sure seems like Jewish dignity could use a little enhancing right now in south Tel Aviv. Zilch.

But then I remembered. In recent weeks one Jewish leader has powerfully condemned the growing nativism in the Jewish state, declaring that “Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. All of the studies point to this, this racism toward Arabs and toward foreigners.” His name? Yuval Diskin, the recently departed head of Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet. Maybe the American Jewish organizations will take their lead from him? On second thought, probably not. No point in associating with delegitimizers.