What Israel is doing to African refugees is a moral atrocity

January 6, 2018

Israel is becoming an hostile and inhumane place for Black people

(Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

There are 38,000 African refugees and migrants who are living in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and the Sudan. And the rightwing Israeli government has issued them an ultimatum—leave Israel now or go to prison.

Israel–a nation founded by Jewish refugees who fled genocide from the Nazis in Europe–comes off as a shamefully racist, hostile and inhumane place for Black people.

Calling the African people “infiltrators”—the preferred derogatory name for the Black refugees—the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told the refugees they must leave by April or face incarceration. They will reportedly receive $3,500 and money for airfare to return home or a third country such as Uganda or Rwanda.

Israel will also close the Holot detention center, which is housing over 1,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees who are subject to deportation.

“We are here on a mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents,” Netanyahu said last August in the neighborhood that some residents have called South Sudan due to the influx of African migrants. “We have a very clear policy: We are dealing with illegal infiltrators – not with refugees, illegal infiltrators – and the right of the State of Israel to maintain its borders and to remove illegal infiltrators from it.”

Netanyahu added: “What I hear is pain and terrible distress. People are afraid to leave the house… Together with the foreign, culture and interior ministers, we will enforce a much stronger enforcement vis-à-vis employers, the lawless infiltrators and everything we need to do to increase enforcement.”

Officials in Israel are concerned that too many Black people threaten the “Jewish and democratic character” of the nation. Add to that a fear of being outnumbered and overrun by Palestinian Arabs—some of whom are second-class Israeli citizens, but many more of whom are subject to a military occupation, without rights, dispossessed of their land and living in the open.

Since 2006, 60,000 refugees have fled to Israel via Egypt, escaping persecution at home. Of the nearly 40,000 asylum seekers who remain, 27,500 are from Eritrea, 7,900 from Sudan and 2,600 from other African nations.

For those who would claim Israel’s actions against these non-Jewish African refugees have nothing to do with race, consider the plight of Black Jews and Israelis of African descent. For example, the over 135,000 Ethiopian Israelis face racial discrimination and police violence, and were even forced to part ways with their ancient traditions so they were in line with Ashkenazi (European) Jewish standards.

“Israel is one of the most racist countries in the world,” said Tahunia Rubel, an Ethiopian-born Israeli model and actress. “People in Israel find it strange to see an Ethiopian woman who behaves like an Israeli.”

Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Mideast face discrimination from Ashkenazi Jews in Israel. And Kenyan citizen and Jewish convert Yehudah Kimani was deported recently, hours after he had arrived in Israel on a visa to study at a yeshiva.

Detained at the airport, he was not allowed to contact his Israeli sponsors. “Do you want half of Africa coming here?” asked one visa official, denying allegations of racial discrimination but defending the deportation of the Black Jew.


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