A migrant migraine
Hebrew media review

A migrant migraine

After two days of protests and months of peace talks, Netanyahu says Africans are not refugees and that demonstrations won't help

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

African asylum seekers hold up a sign that reads, 'We are not animals' during a protest outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, on Monday (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
African asylum seekers hold up a sign that reads, 'We are not animals' during a protest outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, on Monday (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Africans protesting in Tel Aviv grip the front pages for the second consecutive day as the issue of their internment in detainment facilities reaches the highest office in the land. As if that weren’t enough for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deal with, US Secretary of State John Kerry may take a less active role in the peace talks if a framework agreement isn’t reached by March.

Once again, a paper’s opinion on the issue of African migrants residing in Israel is evident from its headlines and photos. Israel Hayom offers the most negative perspective, referring to the Africans as “infiltrators” and depicting the protest as a faceless horde marching down the Tel Aviv beachfront. It quotes Netanyahu’s statement Monday that the Africans are “not refugees, who we treat according to international norms. They are illegal infiltrators [seeking] work and we are determined to deal with them to the fullest extent of the law.” He insisted that their protests won’t change the government’s position. Yedioth Ahronoth refers to them as “asylum seekers” in its overline — after all, the protesters are asking for refuge — but refers to the thousands who demonstrated outside foreign embassies on Monday as “infiltrators” in its article. The paper reports that the groups of protesting African migrants marched up to the US, French and British embassies and gave the guards letters of protest for the ambassadors.

Maariv offers a brief explanation of why the Africans can be referred to as either asylum seekers or infiltrators, as many crossed Israel’s border illegally. It explains that the Sudanese and Eritrean migrants who entered Israel since 2006 have collective protection, but not individual protection under law. Although Israel won’t forcibly repatriate the Africans who entered illegally, it’s making “great efforts in order to cause Eritreans and Sudanese to leave Israel by their own will and repatriate, including by sending them to jail or a detention center, starting enforcement of a work ban, [and] a ban on sending money abroad by infiltrators, etc.”

Haaretz again gives the most sympathetic coverage of the protests, referring to the Sudanese and Eritreans as “migrants” on its front page. It offers a broader perspective on the extent of the protest, which includes a work strike, a hunger strike, and mass demonstrations. Their demand is “recognition of them as refugees, an end to their detention and release of the imprisoned.”

The never-ending story of the US-moderated peace talks with the Palestinians also makes front page news, after Kerry left the region (again) following meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend. Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Likud MK Miri Regev pulled yet another “Sunday scandal” by getting set to propose another bill according to which “the prime minister cannot hold diplomatic negotiations about Jerusalem or raise the issue of [Palestinian] refugees without receiving prior approval of the Knesset,” the paper writes.

Kerry’s meeting Monday with opposition leader Isaac Herzog is a sign of the seriousness of the talks with Ramallah, Maariv writes. The American diplomat told the Labor Party leader that in the discussions between the two sides until now “Netanyahu and [Abbas] made significant and courageous concessions.” He added, however, that if there is no framework agreement by March, “it would appear as though the US will take a step back and lower its profile” in the talks.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, is quoted by Israel Hayom saying that “there will be no evacuation of settlements.” In a statement during a Likud party meeting, the prime minister contradicted Kerry and told his comrades that “there is still no American document and we’re not succeeding in achieving understandings between the two sides.”

He further told the Likudniks that the negotiations were “not about dismantling settlements and it’s not my intention to evacuate any settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].” According to Haaretz, Netanyahu said he wouldn’t evacuate settlements outside the major blocs that are “important to the Jewish nation,” including the controversial Jewish enclave in Hebron or the settlement of Beit El, adjacent to Ramallah. He further stated that Israel would not let a Palestinian state become a base for Iran or al-Qaeda.

Haaretz also reports on former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s statement at Hebrew University on Monday in which he implied that Netanyahu was foolish if he didn’t sign a peace deal with Abbas.

In a veiled attack on his successor, Olmert said, “Only an idiot prime minister doesn’t make peace, and a prime minister who makes peace is no idiot.”

Former Likud defense minister Moshe Arens writes in an op-ed that the bottom line of any agreement with the Palestinians is not two states for two peoples, but what he says is four states for two peoples.

“Once implemented there will be three Palestinian states without a single Jew in any of them: East Palestine (Jordan), West Palestine (Judea and Samaria), and South Palestine (the Gaza Strip),” he writes, and one state that’s 20 percent Arab, i.e., Israel.

He says that a peace plan would mandate the removal of all Jews from future Palestinian territory, which he terms undemocratic. “Whether Israel can subscribe to such a principle is a decision the Israeli government will have to take — unless Mahmoud Abbas surprises us all and declares that he would welcome Jews in the Palestinian state he wishes to establish.”

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