In an editorial published Tuesday, ‘The Jerusalem Post’ accused left-wing NGOs of bringing African asylum seekers to Israel in order to undermine the state’s Jewish majority. By accusing the Left of such Machiavellian tactics, the Post’s editorial board is, quite simply, inciting against those whose political views it disagrees with.
By Natasha Roth
The Jerusalem Post saw fit to publish what is ostensibly a critical editorial about the recent protests by African asylum seekers in Israel on Tuesday, but which amounts to little more than a poison-pen letter to the country’s left-wing NGOs. Using the familiar trojan horse of the demographic threat Africans pose to Israel – which, as journalist Daniel Roth pointed out, is a rather weak argument given that they form less than 0.7 percent of the population – the editorial wheels out the usual threadbare tropes about why asylum seekers come here and why they stay. As if that weren’t enough, it goes on to recycle the “left-wing conspiracy” argument trotted out by veteran journalist Ben Caspit in the noisome thesis printed in the same pages last year; using the same mysterious source from a 2011 UNHCR report quoted by Caspit, The Jerusalem Post editorial board has apparently assessed that there is sufficient evidence to prove the real raison d’être of left-wing organizations is bringing about the dissolution of the Jewish majority in Israel.
These are attacks that we are accustomed to hearing. To a degree, the piece even lacks some of the bite we are used to coming across in tirades against the Left. The insidious use of tepid wording, however, masks an alarming degree of spite, while the charges leveled against the Israeli Left represent a nadir that damages both sides.
Part of the problem arises from the Post’s need to couch the recent asylum seeker protests within the framework of a security threat: this is, after all, the standard launching pad from which the Israeli government defends its more questionable policies. Given the absence of trouble in the events of the past few days – a police official at Sunday’s march told the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants that “we’ve never witnessed such an orderly protest” – a danger must be concocted, and it is the left-wing NGOs that have been saddled with that imperative. Therefore, the Post‘s approach relies on portraying leftists in Israel as devious puppet-masters: shadowy weavers of a web of lies and deception, co-opting those they claim to be helping as part of a conspiracy to “advance a post-Zionist political agenda.” The tu quoque nature of these arguments, taking age-old canards that sit at the center of anti-Semitism and directing them against leftists, is plain to see. More troubling, and unexpected, is the assertion that the “migrants are for [leftists] nothing but pawns in a larger struggle.” The insinuation that NGOs are employing African asylum seekers as useful idiots – or, worse, unwitting Uncle Tom-like figures – in a fight to undermine the State of Israel is all at once obscenely offensive, paranoid and defamatory. By accusing the Left of such Machiavellian tactics The Jerusalem Post is, put simply, inciting against those whose political views it disagrees with.
Further falsehoods and distortions abound. To try and claim, as the Post’s editorial board does, that left-wing NGOs are endangering the lives of asylum seekers deported back to their home countries by publicizing their movements, when Netanyahu himself has been boasting of the government’s efforts in this regard, shows a libelous disregard for the truth. The Post is correct in stating that the lives of those deported are in danger when they return home – illness, government persecution and renewed conflicts have all proved very real threats to those who have been pushed out of Israel. But the theory that NGOs are responsible for this endangerment is an act of contorted, Byzantine reasoning that is aimed squarely at delegitimizing these organizations and framing them for the fatal consequences of the government’s reckless behavior. The guise of concern for the lives of asylum seekers is distasteful, and representative of a new “typing and crying” tactic that seems to be taking hold in rightist opinion pieces (Hebrew).
Buried a bit deeper in the editorial is an equally disturbing message. By repeatedly decrying the idea of Israel being transformed into “a state of all its citizens” the Post is openly declaring its opposition to the notion of Israel as a democracy. By definition, a democracy is a state of all its citizens, and cannot favor one ethnicity, religion or any other social group over another; if it does, it is not a democracy. By positioning itself the way it has in this editorial, The Jerusalem Post’s editorial board has inadvertently exposed the doublethink at the heart of the rightist concept of a “Jewish and democratic state.” A Jewish state as envisioned by the Right, and indeed the government – i.e., a state that maintains a Jewish majority at all costs – is not a democracy; it is an ethnocracy.
Of course, the belief of the UNHCR report’s enigmatic NGO source that “the struggle is about the character of Israel as a state” does ring true, but not in the way that the editorial has querulously relayed it. Putting the cart before the horse, the Post assumes that NGOs’ assistance to asylum seekers is a corollary of a broader campaign to change Israel’s moral character, rather than the other way round. The same logic applies for equal rights struggles in all areas of Israel’s (or any) society – whether it be for Palestinians, non-halachic Jews or Mizrahim. It is no accident that Reuven Abergil, of Israel’s Black Panther movement, spoke to the crowd of asylum seekers in Levinsky Park today as they readied themselves for a third day of strikes and advocacy. The Post’s editorial looks at the aims of left-wing NGOs through a dark glass; the full and unobscured picture is that those on the Left wish to live under a government that adheres to its obligations under international law, in this case regarding those seeking asylum. Practically speaking, this amounts to implementing a fair and scrupulous refugee status determination process, one that is unblemished by prejudice, ineptitude and entrapment.
The article has one more – presumably unintended – trick up its sleeve. In a final flourish, it adopts subaltern pretensions on Israel’s behalf in order to justify the casual cruelty meted out to asylum seekers – a strategy historically adopted against the Palestinians. The evident misapplication of this underdog status when discussing asylum seekers, however, undermines the entire premise. Furthermore, as the world slowly wakes up to situation of Africans in Israel – mostly thanks to the stunning events of the past few weeks – there exists a real potential for the renewed awareness of Israeli society’s virulent levels of racism, a prejudice which has unfortunately, over the decades, been largely accepted as unremarkable vis-à-vis the Palestinians. In its bipolar struggle for a sparkling image alongside free reign to behave however it sees fit, Israel now has another blot slowly spreading over its copybook. One calls to mind the demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and their rallying cry: “The whole world is watching.”
For now, the strikes will go on, and smear tactics will not despoil them. As for the message that the editorial sends to the Left, only two words are needed in response: democracy, now.
 Data taken from latest government statistics (Hebrew), which cite a total of 53,636 asylum seekers currently in Israel. This report is from October, and the number of asylum seekers is now likely to be less. The latest Central Bureau of Statistics report cites the population of Israel as 8,132,000. This puts the number of asylum seekers as roughly 0.66% of Israel’s population. However, even if one considers this figure against Israel’s Jewish demographic – which is undoubtedly the concern of the JPost et al – the percentage is still only 0.88% (the CBS puts the Jewish population at around 6.1 million).
Natasha Roth, a British immigrant to Israel, is a researcher and former coordinator at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), a non-profit organization founded in 2004 by refugees and Israeli citizens to assist, support and empower refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.