Fearing racial backlash, Shas shelves campaign video that stokes fear of Africans in Israel

Sources in ultra-Orthodox party reportedly believe anti-migrant sentiment worth up to three additional seats in upcoming election

An African migrant in Levinsky Park in southern Tel Aviv (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
An African migrant in Levinsky Park in southern Tel Aviv (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party prepared, and later nixed, an election campaign video intended to fuel fear of African migrants and garner support for its anti-migrant policies ahead of the January 22 elections, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth revealed on Monday.

The message of the five-minute video (which is viewable, in Hebrew, here) is that only Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who currently serves as Israel’s interior minister, can battle the threat purportedly posed by African migrants, whom Yishai and other right-wing politicians consistently refer to as “infiltrators.”

For the time being, the video has been shelved by Shas officials for fear of public backlash due to its racial undertones, the report said.

The video opens with footage of the Israel-Egypt border, where, over the past decade, some 60,000 Africans have crossed into Israel, seeking both employment and political asylum. The influx has slowed drastically in recent weeks, as work on the Israel-Egypt border fence has accelerated.

For the next three minutes, the video does not clearly show itself to be part of a political campaign. Rather, it focuses on the perceived danger posed by the African migrants residing in Israel, and the feelings of Israelis who live in the same neighborhoods as the migrants.

The video contains several snippets of local residents expressing fear for their safety and anger over a housing shortage — all purportedly due to the African migrants. One woman says that “it’s their fault that there are no apartments. It’s their fault that housing is very expensive.” A man complains that “tomorrow the Sudanese will continue to walk around here, continue to beat [people] up, continue to stab and continue to rape our women.”

The narrator says that the so-called infiltrators “control neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, Eilat, Ashdod, and other cities,” and pose a “social, religious and security threat.” He goes on to assert that the “greatest threat of all is the demographic threat.”

The clip also makes the claim that the majority of African migrants are Muslim, and that they therefore “do not believe in the State of Israel’s right to exist.”

It is only in the final two minutes that the video makes its political message explicit, declaring that only Shas’s Yishai can counter the ostensible threat to Israel posed by the migrants and implement their repatriation to their countries of origin.

The clip shows footage from the past summer’s mass anti-migrant rallies in Tel Aviv, including shots of people holding signs that read, among other things, “Eli Yishai was right.” One woman is shown saying that with Yishai in the government, “not one Sudanese will remain. There will be work. Everyone will be able to earn a living.”

The video ends with the slogan “Let Eli Yishai win. For I have no other land.”

Unnamed sources close to Yishai were quoted to the effect that they intended to put the video on the party’s website, even though it wasn’t officially part of the campaign, and that they believed it would boost Shas’s share of the electoral pie by as many as three seats.

It wasn’t the first time that members of Shas’s upper echelon have sparked racial controversy in this elections season. A recent brouhaha following remarks made by the party’s No. 3, Aryeh Deri, regarding an ostensible anti-Sephardi bias in the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu party, brought the country’s subterranean Ashkenazi-Sephardi tension to the surface.

On Sunday, Deri wrote on his Facebook page that no people of Sephardi origin were slated to fill a significant post in the upcoming cabinet. That comment came a day after Deri retracted statements to the effect that Likud-Beytenu was a list “for Russians and whites.”

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