Coalition MKs incited the crowd against the refugees and asylum seekers during a protest in south Tel Aviv, which was followed by attacks on African immigrants and confrontations with police. A Likud MK called for the prosecution of Israelis giving shelter to Africans.
More than 1,000 Israelis protested this evening (Wednesday) against the African refugees and asylum seekers who have settled in South Tel Aviv in recent years. According to eyewitnesses’ reports, the crowd grew angry and ultimately violent, following speeches from Knesset members, including members of the government coalition.
It was one of the most violent protests Tel Aviv has known in recent years. Confrontations were continuing between police and Jewish citizens at around 10:30 p.m. local time.
Dozens of protesters tried to move from the Hatikva neighborhood, where the rally was held, towards Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood, where most African asylum seekers and migrants live. They were stopped by police. Protesters attacked a car passing by carrying African passengers, smashing its windows. Shops associated with the African community were vandalized. [UPDATE: As of midnight, activists in Hatikva are still reporting looting and occasional attacks on immigrants.]
In light of increasing violence and harassment in recent days, activists walked refugee children in Tel Aviv home from school on Wednesday in order to prevent them from potential attacks.
According to Maariv’s website, the mob chased a man from Eritrea, who took shelter in a storefront and was rescued by police. At least two journalists were attacked. One fled the area and the other, whose notepad was snatched by protesters, was sheltered by the cops.
Earlier, Knesset members spoke at the event. Some blamed government inaction for the “infiltration problem,” while others heaped accusations on human rights organizations helping the refugees. Knesset Member Miri Regev called the refugees “a cancer in our body.” Regev, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that “leftists” are preventing the state from deporting the refugees back to Africa. Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud), who also spoke at the event, wrote in a Facebook status tonight that “Israel is at war. An enemy state of infiltrators was established in Israel, and its capital is south Tel Aviv.”
According to one of the eyewitnesses, the most inflammatory speaker was MK Michael Ben-Ari, a former member of Meir Kahane’s racist Kach party, who was a resident of south Tel Aviv himself before moving to a settlement. “The police commissioner wants to give the African jobs,” said Ben-Ari, referring to a statement by Chief of Police Yochanan Danino, who recently urged the government to allow the refugees to work in Israel, in order to prevent the crime rate from rising. “This will bring another 50,000 people here,” said Ben Ari.
Asylum seekers in Israel are given temporary residence permits but are not permitted to work in Israel. The government has stated before the High Court that will not enforce the ban on employment, but calls are regularly heard from the right to crack down on employers to prevent the refugees from working.
Several local residents also spoke at the rally. Most of them mentioned their fears of a “rising crime rate.” “We are afraid to walk the streets at nights,” said one of the speakers. “The infiltrators are taking over our neighborhood and over our jobs,” said another speaker.
According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there are presently some 60,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. Most entered the country by foot through its southern border. While they are termed “infiltrators” by the government, some 85 percent are from Eritrea and Sudan, to which Israel has agreed until now not to return them in light of the situations in those countries. They fall under a form of group protection from deportation, but their individual refugee claims are not processed.
A few recent crimes against Israelis that were linked to the African community have recently received considerable attention in the local media. They led to a wave of protest and declarations by politicians against the refugees and asylum seekers. MK Ofir Akunis, a member of Likud and a Netanyahu proxy, is set to promote a Knesset bill which will criminalize Israelis who employ, drive or give shelter to refugees.
UPDATE: The Israel Police tweeted that in the last week, 11 suspects, most of them minors, were arrested for attacking African refugees in Tel Aviv on several occasions. They used clubs and pepper spray against their victims.
Haggai Matar contributed to this report.
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