* Netanyahu government hamstrung on border-jumper influx
* Jewish state mindful of demographic, Holocaust lessons (Adds Netanyahu
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, May 24 (Reuters) - Surging street violence against African
migrants in Israel, including a rampage that an Israeli broadcaster dubbed a
"pogrom", drew statements of empathy for the rioters as well as censure from
the government on Thursday.
Waving Israeli flags and chanting "Deport the Sudanese", residents of a
low-income Tel Aviv neighbourhood where many of the border-jumpers from
Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan live held a march late Wednesday that turned
Police said 20 people were arrested for assault and vandalism. Trash cans
were set alight, storefront windows were broken and a crowd attacked an
African driving through the area, breaking his car's windows. No serious
injuries were reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Wednesday's violence, saying
there was no room for such action and that the issue must be resolved
"responsibly". But his interior minister, Eli Yishai, was more forgiving.
Interviewing Yishai, Army Radio likened the incident to pogrom attacks on
Jews in 19th-century Europe. Yishai bristled at such language, citing police
findings that Sudanese and Eritrean migrants were a crime risk.
"I cannot judge a man whose daughter gets raped. I cannot judge a young
woman who cannot walk home," said Yishai, in a reference to the rape of a
15-year-old girl last month and the three Sudanese migrants who were
arrested for the crime.
"I cannot under any circumstances judge people who get abused and harmed,
and who are then confronted by the state, which says, 'Why do you behave
this way to the foreigners?'"
Fleeing poverty, fighting and authoritarian rule, some 60,000 Africans have
crossed illegally into Israel through the relatively porous desert border
with Egypt in recent years.
That has jarred the Jewish state, with its already ethnically fraught
citizen population of 7.8 million. Some Israelis warn of a gathering
demographic and economic crisis while others say a country born after the
Holocaust has a special responsibility to offer foreigners sanctuary.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said some 15 percent of city residents were
"illegal foreign workers" and the number was growing. Interior Ministry data
show 82 percent of the African migrants are men, 15 percent women and the
Israel says most of the migrants come seeking work rather than refuge, but
this has been challenged by U.N. humanitarian agencies and civil rights
groups. As a result, the Africans are kept in a legal limbo, many of them
granted temporary permits but no clear permanent status.
The government is erecting a fortified fence on the Egyptian border and
wants to deport the migrants. But it has no ties with Sudan that would allow
direct repatriation, and some humanitarian experts say it cannot force
subjects of South Sudan and Eritrea back to those impoverished and ravaged
Eritrea's ambassador to Israel, Tesfamariam Tekeste, said in a television
interview on Tuesday that Asmara would admit its citizens who return
voluntarily - but not deportees.
An April 1 expulsion order issued by Yishai against illegal South Sudanese
was blocked by a Jerusalem court as it considers an appeal by Israeli human
Unchecked, the number of Africans illegally in Israel could reach millions
and overwhelm the citizenry, predicted Yishai, who heads a party run by
rabbis in the coalition government.
"So what, the State of Israel, as the Jewish state, in the name of
democracy, in the name of honouring U.N. resolutions, (should accept) a
recipe for suicide?" he said.
"The truth has to be told, and believe me it is hard and it hurts, as we are
the Jewish people, a merciful people."
David Gez, a senior Israeli police officer, said Wednesday's violence was
one of several such anti-African incidents this month in Tel Aviv.
Oscar Olivier, a Congolese migrant, said on Army Radio that he has been in
Israel for 18 years seeking refugee status and that the public mood reminded
him of the assassination in 1995 of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an
"I feel like we're facing a former alcoholic who has started drinking
again," he said in fluent Hebrew. "The question is not if they will kill an
African because he is black, but when."
Olivier acknowledged the migrants posed problems for Israel but said: "There
are professional, reliable, serious, and independent laws and judges. Let
them decide what to do and how to do it - just without violence." (Writing
by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Michael Roddy)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu May 24 2012 - 19:01:21 EDT