In Favor Of The Difference

Hundreds of residents of Tel Aviv demonstrated against labor migrants, refugees from Africa and elsewhere. They demonstrated under the heading of “End fear in the neighborhoods – send the infiltrators home.” The demonstrators argue that the current government has abandoned them. The South Tel Aviv residents’ demonstration against these new populations now coming into the social atmosphere is not happening in a sealed-off vacuum. A demonstration in the nearby city of Bat Yam, by supporters of Rabbi Kahane, warned against the danger of relationships between Jewish women and Arab men. A demonstration of Ramat Aviv residents warned against the growth of the ultra-orthodox community in that suburb. Admission committees in gated communities seek to filter out any foreign family that would threaten the familiar community make-up.

Israeli society is falling apart into small molecules, and the common denominator is being lost. The historical memory of exile, refugee life, uprootings, and destruction vanishes with the assumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. Whole communities of Jews, which had wandered from place to place in Europe, which had experienced being Dhimmi (under patronage) in the lands of Islam, have now become the policy-makers. But why does this broad expanse of memory not become a vehicle for social change? Where is the thought that can contain the Foreigner, the Different, and the Other? We live in an age where each community does not truly want to get to know the Other and to hear his story. There is no multicultural system which can contain all of these communities. And when there is no unifying force that is national, Jewish, and multi-racial, we remain in a policy of ‘divide and conquer.’ Racist forces sneak into the socially-frustrated communities and seek to spread hate, hostility, and anger.

Some of the South Tel Aviv residents are right to turn to the government to put its immigration policy in order. We must ask how and why the government intends to settle the refugees and the labor migrants, the women and the children growing up here. Israel’s government is the one that started bringing in the hundreds of thousands of labor migrants, due to terminating the employment of the Palestinian workforce. These labor migrants are employed at less than minimum wage, without social benefits, doing work that most Israelis are unwilling to do, be it for the physical difficulty or for the low pay. It is easier to call these impoverished workers “infiltrators” than to use their professional name. It is easier to forget that most of them come under auspices of legal permits, which yield the permit-getter a nice fee for every labor migrant that enters the country. Paradoxically, some of these laborers are expelled by the very same politicians who profited from brining them here in the first place.

The “infiltrators” are, in fact, refugees from countries where the political situation has turned into chaos. They escape their own homelands and seek asylum. Why do we not have the space, in Israel, to create such asylum? How can we pray to God to be merciful and hold us in His grace, when we have neither grace nor mercy for them? Some of them have crossed the Sinai desert on foot, arriving at our door with nothing at all. How do they see us, when we slam shut the door? At the demonstration signs proclaimed that the refugee population was criminal and dangerous – but there is no foundation for this statement in actual fact. Crime is low amongst them, lower even than the average in Israeli society. They, more than most citizens, are afraid to run afoul of law enforcement, and all they want is to keep on working in Israel. Quite a few of their children learn in the Israeli educational system, go to youth movements, and only dream of integrating.

Let us help them, and not forget where we have come from, and where we are going to.

This article was translated from the original Hebrew and edited by Dena Shunra.


The op-ed was first published on Israel HaYom, 26.12.2010