Reacting to Wednesday’s protest-turned-violent against African migrants in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday condemned the physical violence and the racial overtones of the protests. The prime minister was speaking amid a mood of crisis in Israel over the African migrants — some 70,000 of whom are now in Israel — and the frictions and fears caused by their presence in large numbers in south Tel Aviv.
The director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, said the word had to get back to the migrants’ countries of origin that Israel was not a viable destination for them, and the Public Security Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, proposed deploying a large Border Police contingent in still unfenced areas of the Israel-Egypt border to ensure a halt to the flow of migrants — estimated at 1,000 a month.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants are headed toward Israel, Channel 2 reported on Thursday night, and the Bedouin gangs who help smuggle them across the Sinai are aware that Israel is gradually fencing off the border and taking tougher measures to halt the flow and thus are accelerating their efforts to get the migrants here.
Meeting with a group of children from the Jordan Valley in his office, Netanyahu said that “there is no place for the expressions or the actions that we witnessed last night.” He added that the “migrant problem must be resolved, and we will resolve it. We will complete construction on the fence [along the Egyptian-Israeli border] within a few months, and soon we will begin returning the migrants to their countries of origin.”
As for the concerns of the protesters, who cited a spate of sexual and other acts of violence allegedly carried out by migrants in recent weeks, Netanyahu said that “I understand their pain.”
Regarding the racist sentiments expressed during the rally, Netanyahu emphasized that his comments were directed not only at the residents of Tel Aviv, but also at the public officials, including Knesset members, who participated in the rally. “We will solve the problem,” the prime minister reiterated, “and we will do so in a responsible manner.”
In her speech to protesters in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood Wednesday, MK Miri Regev (Likud) declared that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body” and said “they should be sent back” to where they came from — sentiments that one TV reporter Thursday compared to those made by Nazi leaders about the Jews.
Harel Locker, the Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, told Israel Radio on Thursday that Israel will take a harder stand against infiltrators from Africa. He spoke of making it economically unfeasible for employers to hire illegal migrant workers, and said the message had to get back to the migrants’ home countries that Israel could not accommodate them.
Hundreds of people protested in south Tel Aviv on Wednesday against the inflow of illegal aliens and migrant workers from Africa and to demand a government response to the influx.
Many of the immigrants are from Sudan and Eritrea, with many of the Sudanese seeking refuge during the now-finished Sudanese civil war.
Twelve people were arrested during the protests on suspicion of attacking foreigners. One vehicle with three African migrants was attacked. The car sustained minor damage and none of the occupants was injured.
Another man whose car was attacked and windshield smashed, who comes from the Ivory Coast and has been living in Israel for two years, said he tried to explain to the assailants that he was not a Sudanese or Eritrean illegal, “but they didn’t care.”
Protesters at the Wednesday demonstration held signs noting their frustration with recent incidents of violent crime, including “Our streets are no longer safe for our children,” “The craziness of our life: Neglect, crime, rape and violence,” and “Yesterday it was my daughter, tomorrow it will be your daughter.”
“The infiltrators are taking over our neighborhood,” a local resident said. “Netanyahu must find an immediate solution. The prime minister must see to it that [the infiltrators] are provided with food, but first he must guarantee our security.”
Several politicians, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai, have recently called for the deportation of all but those officially designated by the government as refugees. On Thursday, Yishai said he was taking steps to prevent employers providing work to illegal entrants.
Yishai has also ordered the Immigration Authority to prepare to deport some 700 Sudanese illegal immigrants and their families.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein met with Netanyahu Wednesday evening and presented the prime minister with a legal brief that said Israel can deport illegal immigrants from South Sudan to their country, now that it has declared its independence. The Foreign Ministry has also endorsed the deportation of South Sudanese migrants who do not qualify for political asylum.
Aharonovich’s idea for deploying Border Police on the Egyptian border would involve their being armed with non-lethal weapons to force would-be illegal entrants back into Egypt, Channel 2 reported on Thursday night. Such a mission would be acutely sensitive, however, since it could involve confrontations on Egyptian territory at a time when Egypt is in transition and its relationship with Israel is unstable.
Aharonovich was also reported Thursday to have ordered the deployment of an additional 100 police and Border Police personnel to south Tel Aviv — to bolster residents’ sense of security, and prevent further violence.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel lawyer Oded Feller said the government should heed the police’s recommendation that the African migrants be allowed to work. Such a move would reduce their need to steal for food, he said.