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[Dehai-WN] CNN.com: A night that put Israel to shame

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 28 May 2012 14:10:42 +0200

A night that put Israel to shame

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN

May 28, 2012 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)


* Frida Ghitis: A demonstration against immigrants turned violent in
* She says members of parliament added to the inflamed rhetoric
* Israel, of all places, should avoid intolerance of those seeking
asylum, she says
* Ghitis: Israelis condemned the rioting, and Israel is not alone in
its immigration problem

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami
Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer/correspondent, she
is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live

(CNN) -- One of the unintended consequences of the Arab revolutions has
become evident in Israel, where a surge in the number of refugees from
Africa has created new tensions in a country with no shortage of practical
and ethical dilemmas.

In the face of the new challenge, a number of Israeli politicians have sunk
to the occasion, exploiting raw emotions and fueling
html> a display of violence that should shame Israelis.

To be sure, Israel is not the first nation whose handling of illegal
immigration deserves criticism. But the anti-immigrant riot that took place
in a Tel Aviv neighborhood on May 23 should rise as a rallying cry for
Israelis who believe their country should shine as a "light unto the

Since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year, Egypt's
Sinai Peninsula, the border between the two countries, has become a
all%C2%A0> mostly lawless land where Bedouin gangs freely traffic in, among
other things, human beings.

Migrants who come mostly from Sudan and Eritrea have chosen Israel as their
destination because it is one of the most prosperous states in the region
and because it offers some protection for refugees. Despite the protests of
right-wing politicians and of some sectors of the population, Israel has so
far refrained from forcing the vast majority of refugees to return to their
native countries.

Many countries keep asylum-seekers in prison-like camps under indefinite
detention. Israel is building
tion-center-for-up-to-8-000-refugees-1.417210> a detention facility where
refugees would remain while their cases are processed. But until now, they
have been receiving visas that allow them to live anywhere in the country.
Still, they live in limbo without a right to work legally.

Unlike other countries that have returned refugees to their nation of origin
or pushed them back to the state from which they crossed the border, Israel,
a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, has done neither. But the
situation is becoming untenable and pressure for deportations is growing.

Government figures say about 60,000 African migrants now reside in Israel,
double the figure from 2010, with between 2,000 and 3,000 more arriving each
month. The numbers are enormous for a country the size of Israel. It is
roughly equal to
grants/story-e6frfkvr-1226200664868> the number of illegal immigrants found,
for example, in Australia, a country 350 times the size and triple the
population of Israel.

ks> Israel is hardly the first place to experience
eek-port-city-of-patras_211469.html> anti-immigrant riots. And
anti-immigrant sentiment there is part of
ut-on-immigrants%C2%A0> a wave sweeping the globe.

As in most places where illegal immigration has suddenly increased, much
resentment has come from the poor who see the unfamiliar new arrivals
settling in their midst, view the newcomers as a threat to their livelihoods
and are highly sensitive to reports of criminal activity.

Eritrean and Sudanese refugees
<http://www.timesofisrael.com/second-rape-in-a-week-shakes-tel-aviv/> have
been arrested in a number of rape and stabbing of cases in Tel Aviv, but
there is no evidence that the crime rate among them is higher than in the
rest of the population. That, however, has not stopped
ls-who-should-be-deported-yishai-says> Interior Minister Eli Yishai from
tarring migrants as criminals and suggesting that most should be summarily

The country's leaders should seek to calm tensions and find a humane
solution to a growing human problem. But responsible, statesman-like
behavior is apparently too much to ask.

When the residents of the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Hatikva held a
protest last week, one member of parliament,
Miri Regev, referred to Sudanese "infiltrators" as "a cancer," stoking the
inexcusable outbreak of violence. (She later apologized for using the term
"cancer".) Another member of parliament,
<http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=271174> Danny Danon, turned
up the rhetoric, shouting "Expulsion now!" and calling the migrants "a

While some Israelis expressed sympathy for the protesters, many lashed out
against the shocking display of intolerance in Tel Aviv, of all places, a
city known for its open-mindedness.

Although no one was seriously injured and the police intervened, arresting
17 people, the language and the behavior would be unacceptable anywhere, but
in Israel more than anywhere.

Reuven Rivlin, speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament,
97vw?docId=CNG.e593fcf238a704da61db5dc6c49f1222.201%C2%A0> characterized the
event as reminiscent of the early days of World War II, saying the words
"remind me of the hate speech aimed against the Jewish people." Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared "there is no place for the statements
and actions which we saw last night."

The day after the riot, Israelis
s-call-for-expulsion-of-african-migrants/> held a vigil against racism in
front of the prime minister's residence. But the reaction on the political
scene was not uniformly conciliatory, with new calls for deportations and
more irresponsible and inflammatory language from some political leaders.

Israel faces a serious moral and practical dilemma. And although the problem
has unique aspects because it is occurring in Israel, it is a quandary
familiar to every country that has faced a large inflow of refugees and
migrant workers.

In Israel's case, the prospect that the stream of refugees could grow into a
flood raises the added specter that it could transform the Jewish character
of the state.
character-1.261840> Despite Netanyahu's claim, that is not an imminent
danger. But the question also tugs, urgently, at another aspect of the
country's identity.

Israel, after all, was founded as the nation-state of the Jewish people; a
people that saw millions of its numbers murdered while
other countries closed their doors during World War II and at other times in

Israel has
alia-s-handling-of-illegal-refugees.html> not dealt with its refugees more
harshly than most countries, despite the exaggerated claims about the events
in Tel Aviv. But that is not a good enough standard. Israelis need to deal
fairly and humanely with the refugees. Israelis are building a barrier at
the Sinai border, which should cut down on the smugglers' cruel traffic in
human beings. Israel should formalize and legalize the status of a portion
of the migrants and work with international agencies to find homes in third
countries for others.

In the meantime, it's a good time for Israelis of all stripes to look at
their own history and send a strong message to politicians who seem to have
forgotten not only the country's claim to high ethical standards, but
<http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=270453> an
admonition from an ancient text, from Exodus, recently cited by a hospital
manager writing about the serious medical needs of African migrants.

"Do not oppress the stranger among us. You know how it feels to be
strangers, for you, too, were strangers in Egypt."

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African immigrants drive a car whose windows were shattered by Israeli
protesters in Tel Aviv on May 23.

African immigrants drive a car whose windows were shattered by Israeli
protesters in Tel Aviv on May 23.



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