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Anti-migrant activist out on house arrest for asylum seeker daycare break-in

Sheffi Paz detained after she and another protestor entered preschool and confronted carer as the children celebrated Hanukkah

Sheffi Paz as she and another activist broke into a preschool in south Tel Aviv, December 15, 2020 (Screen grab)
Sheffi Paz as she and another activist broke into a preschool in south Tel Aviv, December 15, 2020 (Screen grab)

A prominent anti-migrant activist was released to house arrest on Friday evening after she was detained in connection with a break-in at a preschool for children of asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv during the school day.

Sheffi Paz was initially held for 48 hours after she and another activist broke into a kindergarten in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station on Tuesday while the children were taking part in activities to mark the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

The two confronted a kindergarten teacher in a classroom, in front of the children, as well as other staff members.

The incident took place at a preschool run by the Unitaf organization, which facilitates educational programs for children without status in Israel — i.e. those whose parents are asylum seekers, migrant workers or undocumented.

Video footage of children celebrating Hanukkah while Sheffi Paz and another activist broke into a preschool run by the Unitaf organization in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station (Screen grab)

Paz has for years campaigned against the housing of African migrants in her south Tel Aviv neighborhood.

Earlier this year, she was one of three people briefly detained on suspicion of spray-painting slogans against the High Court of Justice outside the home of its chief justice, Esther Hayut.

The graffiti vandalism read: “Esther Hayut, you buried Zionism,” and “Thanks for burying the right of return in Tel Aviv,” as well as, “The High Court destroyed south Tel Aviv.”

A month earlier she admitted that she plastered stickers outside the home of Supreme Court Judge Uzi Vogelman, an action that prompted him to file a police complaint.

Those stickers carried the slogan “Jewish blood is cheap — the High Court of Justice,” a play on a slogan used by right-wing extremist Jewish activists who campaign under the message that “Jewish blood is not cheap.”

The stickers, which were also marked with the “South Tel Aviv Liberation Front,” Paz’s organization, were apparently referring to High Court rulings that have prevented the government from removing migrants from the neighborhood where local residents say they are a source of crime.

South Tel Aviv resident and activist Sheffi Paz speaks in south Tel Aviv on April 2, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

In recent years, the estimated 35,000 African migrants in Israel have been detained, threatened with deportation, and faced hostility from lawmakers and residents. The High Court has pushed back against government plans to jail or deport the migrants, saying a solution in line with international norms must be found.

While many of the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as a threat to the Jewish character of the state.

The asylum seekers, mainly from war-torn Sudan and dictatorial Eritrea, began arriving in Israel in 2005 through its porous border with Egypt, after Egyptian forces violently quashed a refugee demonstration in Cairo and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel.

Tens of thousands crossed the desert border, often after enduring dangerous journeys, before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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