Piki Ish-Shalom, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of International Relations at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reflects on an outbreak of racial hatred and xenophobic violence in Israel. – Jeff
History is a reservoir of teachings. For example, fusing together xenophobia, social unrest, racial stereotyping and sexual hysteria is especially explosive, endangering the marginalized others, the social fabric, and the political system as a whole. Looking at the rise of the xenophobic right in Europe, it sometimes seems that many Europeans have forgotten the lessons they so painfully learned. I fear that Israel, on the other hand, has not learned those fundamental teachings at all.
In the last couple of years Israel faced a steady inflow of Africans, smuggled in through its borders. Their numbers are hard to know accurately, but the estimation is in the tens of thousands. Most of them are from Eritrea and Sudan; countries torn by wars and hunger. Many of them are asylum-seekers, who apply for refugee status. But the state authorities mostly refuse to examine their requests, as is required by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), of which Israel is party. On the other hand, they are not deported, and thus remain in a purgatory state in which they are legally banned from work, do not enjoy any social rights, and are pushed into lives of misery and poverty at the margins of society.
Hardly any asylum-seeker is granted the status of a refugee because Israel fails to fulfill its legal responsibility to examine their requests. Hence, they remain as asylum-seekers and are perceived as illegal immigrants. Many of them are crowded in the streets of southern Tel Aviv alongside poor sectors of Israeli society, sectors that themselves suffer from marginalization, alienation, and a host of economic and social problems. Seeing their streets crowded by foreigners, who allegedly steal their jobs and affect their standards of living, alienates those sectors further and flairs their anger at the government. Nothing new in the stratification of racial hate, unfortunately.
Recent weeks have witnessed . . .