As long as they’re here, let them work

Police attempting to contain a mob on an anti-African spree after a protest against African refugees and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood on May 23, 2012. Photo by:
Police attempting to contain a mob on an anti-African spree after a protest against African refugees and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood on May 23, 2012. Photo by:

It is extremely unfortunate that certain far-right elements are trying to fan the frustrations felt by residents of the country’s peripheral areas against foreign workers. Last week’s rally in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood was a low point that should serve as a warning sign.

When I arrived at the rally last Wednesday, I looked at the asylum seekers and felt sorry for them. I asked myself whether they were aware that that night would be a menacingly difficult one. A man stood at the podium and asked the crowd, in a shaky voice, to refrain from violence. The very request raised concern. The demonstrators appeared visibly frustrated. Some of them held signs criticizing the government, not just the refugees.

The fear was mainly of the Sudanese infiltrators, and it boiled down to the fact that they hail from an Islamic country. One of the speakers at the rally warned that they would build mosques everywhere and that we would lose the Jewish state. Another speaker said he had no problem with the Chinese workers or the illegal Palestinian workers, but that the Sudanese and Eritreans were inspiring fear, buying and renting apartments everywhere. His remarks made me very sad. Another speaker took the stage and demanded that her daughters be protected from rapists. The crowd’s calls reflected their desire to take the law into their own hands.

MK Danny Danon (Likud), who condemned the violence, demanded that they be “expelled immediately” in addition to building the border fence between Egypt and Israel and completing detention centers. The demonstrators chanted: The people demand deportation of the Sudanese!

Many Knesset members have made extremist remarks lately, but when MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) blamed Israel-hating leftists for the situation, I could no longer bear it. You can’t have it both ways. The politicians on the Right need to decide whether they want to incite violence or to offer a real, serious solution. The elimination of thousands of refugees will not suddenly create jobs or a sense of security for Israelis. The problem is not the refugees, but rather the absence of a welfare state.

The situation requires a complex solution. The asylum seekers must be removed from the cycle of poverty by giving them work permits, because only in this way will they be able to earn an honest living while they are in Israel. Such a measure would also lead to their dispersal throughout the country, thus relieving the burden on the weakest socio-economic areas. Either way, as long as there are those who prefer to denigrate and incite, the issue will remain in the headlines rather than being seriously treated.

And regardless of one opinion or another: Whoever incites to violence against foreigners should be punished in accordance with the law, so that the issue can be discussed reasonably in a public atmosphere that is rational rather than hysterical.

This article was first published on Israel Hayom



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