Israeli Anger Over 'African' Crime Wave

After Rapes, Violent Backlash Targets Black Immigrants

‘Get Out of Israel’ Angry Israeli demonstrators demanded action against illegal African immigrants. They set fires, broke windows and beat black passers-by.
getty images
‘Get Out of Israel’ Angry Israeli demonstrators demanded action against illegal African immigrants. They set fires, broke windows and beat black passers-by.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published May 27, 2012, issue of June 01, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Hard-line politicians have quickly seized on the wave of public antagonism toward African immigrants. Abstract concerns about immigration and demographics have long been a concern in a country that prides itself on being both Jewish and democratic. But the more explosive issues of race and crime have raised the temperature dramatically.

“Most of the African [immigrants] are criminals,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Army Radio, using the common term “infiltrators” to refer to immigrants. “I would put all of them, without exception, into a prison or other holding facility, and from there give each of them a grant and send them back to their countries.” Several other lawmakers are racing to be the first to draw up legislation to mandate deportations.

The nasty rhetoric is clearly having an impact on the streets. On April 27, an attacker threw Molotov cocktails into the homes of innocent Africans and into the courtyard of a heavily African kindergarten building in south Tel Aviv. A little more than a week later, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a Tel Aviv apartment block inhabited by Africans. Less serious attacks are common, according to advocates for immigrants.

Advocates are furious with police and politicians for pointing the finger at immigrants, whom they say are mostly hardworking and law-abiding.

Sigal Rozen, of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, called the comments a wave of “incitement” and blamed officials for encouraging Israelis to lash out against Africans.

“Police and decision makers… are inflaming tensions and making people afraid to the extent that they might again and again take the law into their own hands,” Rozen said.

Rozen added that she considers most of the anti-immigrant furor to be stoked by economic and social fears, not racism.

“The feeling of living in a neighborhood where you’re told that the majority of the people around you are criminals is hell,” she said.

Nic Schlagman, humanitarian coordinator at the African Refugee Development Center nonprofit, agreed, saying the tumult is not primarily about race.

“[It’s] more by desire to preserve their neighborhoods and demographics,” he said.

Hebrew University political scientist Gabriel Sheffer, an expert on Israel’s illegal immigration, believes that the national attention on crime will permanently turn the public in favor of tougher policies on illegals immigrants. Work is under way on a fence to seal the southwestern border. In March, construction began at what is expected to be the largest detention center for illegal immigrants in the world. And while the state largely turns a blind eye to the prohibition on illegals working, government officials are promising to stop doing so.

There is another possibility, albeit a counterintuitive one: the fortunes of illegal immigrants could actually improve as a result of the outcry. Even as he denounced the immigrants for supposedly making the streets unsafe, Danino called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants to give them the right to work legally and gaing access to social benefits.

“There are tens of thousands [of illegal immigrants] already here who, if you don’t create jobs for them, will immediately go to crime,” the police chief said.

The proposal instantly provoked fury in government, with many saying it would only encourage a new wave of immigrants.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai blasted the plan as the ill-conceived work of liberal “bleeding hearts.”

“Why should we provide them with jobs? I’m sick of the bleeding hearts, including politicians,” Yishai said. “Jobs would settle them here, they’ll make babies, and that offer will only result in hundreds of thousands more coming over here.”

But police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld stood by the proposal, telling the Forward that the situation of illegal immigrants already in Israel could not be ignored for the sake of politics. He called it an urgent public safety matter that trumps long-term policy concerns.

“We are talking about an issue that is on the police’s table,” he said. “There has to be some type of social and economic support.”

Nathan Jeffay can be reached at jeffay@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.