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Netanyahu’s wall isn’t about immigration — it’s about race

Netanyahu’s recent boast that he has stopped all illegal immigration to Israel isn’t quite true: his southern border wall is only aimed at preventing black people from entering Israel irregularly.

By Asaf Calderon

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison's fence, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison’s fence, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

The United States is on fire. After two weeks in office, President Donald Trump has already managed to sign a series of Executive Orders that have sparked massive protests. Chief among them are the new ban on immigration into the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries and the order to begin construction of the long-promised “giant wall” on the border with Mexico.

While thousands of Americans flooded to protest at airports where Muslim travelers were detained, and while many governments across the world including France and the Netherlands strongly condemned Trump’s actions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity to congratulate his American colleague and, more importantly, to boast of his own achievements when it comes to illegal immigration.

Reading Netanyahu’s tweet, one might assume that Israel’s border wall, built on the southern border with Egypt, put a stop to illegal immigration to Israel. But that would be an “alternative fact.”

Israel completed Netanyahu’s border fence along the Egyptian border in 2013, in response to the entry of African asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, which had been steadily increasing since 2005. Eritrea’s government is widely considered to be Africa’s most oppressive regime, with an abysmal freedom of expression record and mandatory military service with no clear release date, creating what essentially amounts to a system of forced labor.

Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel come mostly from the Darfur and Nuba Mountains regions, as well as from South Sudan, a country that, since its founding, has been in the midst of civil war. Asylum seekers from both countries are granted refugee status in the vast majority of cases in Europe and North America, yet Israel refuses to check their asylum requests. Instead, African asylum seekers in Israel are detained and pushed to leave the country without having gone through the refugee status determination process.

Much has been written about Israel’s refusal to accept refugees, which goes against the UN Refugee Convention. It is often pointed out that Israel itself is a country founded by refugees and was one of the central forces behind the formulation of that very convention. How can a state founded by a great number of Jews who were forced to flee pogroms and extermination be so reluctant to accept refugees?

Netanyahu and his administration, like Trump, use all the common excuses: Africans are criminals, they take jobs away from the struggling working class, they are involved in Islamic terrorism. Never mind that police figures show they commit fewer crimes when compared to the general population, or that Israel invites migrant workers to take jobs Israelis don’t want to do (thus enriching the manpower companies that brings them to Israel), and that no African migrant has ever been accused of terrorism.

Targeting immigration based on race

The border fence is often regarded as a success by the Israeli government, as it has significantly reduced the immigration of asylum seekers from these countries. However, there are other significant factors that have led to this situation.

In February 2012, the International Criminal Court ruled that a deal signed between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, according to which ships of migrants headed for Italy would be sent back, is illegal. After the policy was revoked (aided by the deposition of Gaddafi), the path across the treacherous Mediterranean was reopened. Many asylum seekers chose to take to the water in hopes of recognition, rights, and a decent life rather than to travel by land to Israel — a country that provides them none of these.

An Israeli soldier confronts an African asylum seeker during the march to the border with the Sinai Peninsula. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

An Israeli soldier confronts an African asylum seeker during the march to the border with the Sinai Peninsula. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, there is also a complex system in place on the border, which includes cooperation with the Egyptian army. Using security cameras and constant monitoring, the IDF scans an area four kilometers into Egypt’s Sinai desert. When a potential migrant is spotted, the Egyptian border guards are alerted and make an arrest. The migrant is then sent to an Egyptian prison where they will wait to be deported to their country of origin, often risking their lives.

Netanyahu claims that the border wall “stopped all illegal immigration.” But just like in the U.S., the vast majority of illegal immigrants came to Israel by air. In 2016, for example, the Israeli government estimated that there were 40,721 “infiltrators” (the government’s official term for African asylum seekers), 16,737 mostly Asian illegal work migrants (who overstayed their work visa or are working in an unauthorized field of work), and 78,500 people who entered with a tourist visa and are currently living in Israel illegally.

The majority of these tourists are white Europeans, predominantly from Eastern Europe. In other words, white illegal immigrants who entered by plane are almost double the number Africans of who entered Israel through its southern border — and that is after taking into account the thousands of Africans who were forced to leave the country.

So why does Netanyahu boast that the border fence stopped all illegal immigration? The answer is simple: because it significantly reduced immigration of black people.

Israel’s migration policy is inherently discriminatory: Jews can obtain citizenship almost automatically (provided, at least, you are the “right” kind of Jew). Non-Jews, even if they were born in Israel to non-citizen parents — and especially if they are related to Palestinians or are themselves Palestinians who were forced out during and after the Nakba in 1948 —  are virtually barred from becoming citizens. It has been suggested that one of the reasons this system was put in place was to avoid dealing with the Palestinian refugee problem that Israel itself created.

The inequality faced by Palestinian refugees is well known. However, African asylum seekers present a different example of the inherent racism of Israel’s immigration policy: although the majority of illegal immigrants to Israel are white Europeans who entered the country by air, they are largely undiscussed, while Africans — as well as work migrants who remained in the country beyond their permitted stay — are being targeted, deported and jailed. This is not to say that white illegal immigrants should be targeted, of course: they do no harm and should be naturalized. But the fact that Netanyahu chooses to ignore their existence shows that he is not actually worried about illegal immigration in of itself. Rather, his worries are race-based.

It is crucial that Americans — and especially American Jews — who oppose Trump’s racist immigration policy hold Israel to the same standard that they hold their own government. Until Israel ceases to enforce a race-based immigration policy, and until it allows entry and status to refugees escaping forced labor and genocide, it will be no better than Trump’s America. It’s time to tear down that wall.

Asaf Calderon is a Jewish-Israeli activist living in New York.

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    1. i_like_ike52

      The Palestinian constitution says the Palestinians are an integral part of the Arab Umma (nation) and that Islam is the state religion which means discrimination against non-Arabs and non-Muslims. Everyone here at 972 is working overtime to see that this state be set up. Thus, I can only conclude that “progressives” DO NOT have a problem with racially and religiously exclusive states which may allow minorities to live in their state, but under inferior, Jim Crow-type conditions.
      In addition, the official name of Egypt is the “Arab Republic of Egypt” and the official name of Syria (or what’s left of it) is “the Syrian Arab Republic”. All the Arab states of the Middle East, with the exception of Lebanon, make Islam the state religion and ALL discriminate against non-Muslims.
      If “progressives” have no problem with this, a “Jewish state” should not be a problem for “progressives”.
      BTW-We also can note how the wealthy Arab/Muslim states of the Gulf REFUSE to accept their brother Arab/Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq. Talk about discrimination!

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Ike: This may have escaped your attention, but half the articles in 972 are about human rights violations and the way Israel treats the Palestinians.

        Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        Why would an asylum seeker look to settle in an Arab land? The rules clearly state that they should claim asylum in the first SAFE country they reach.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Aren’t Saudi Arabia or Qatar or Dubai safe? Isn’t Iran which is a totalitarian police state that keeps a complete lid on its population safe? These are all self-proclaimed Islamic states who supposedly love their Muslim brothers but they can’t seem to be bothered about giving their brothers refuge for some reason but they send them on to the infidel West instead.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Lawrence A Dickerson

      Along the same lines, Israel has yet to set her borders thus she is not a nation and is operating illegally. The world needs to demand and follow through with the requirement that Israel set her borders on whatever boundaries she deems correct. Then the parties can set up protests and demonstrate that there are areas that need immediate attention and correction.

      Currently, Israel’s borders are whatever she deems them to be and that is illegal because there is no worldwide recognition of those lines. Israel has no right top exist under her present conditions. Even the smallest and poorest countries have borders. get the idea?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lawrence A Dickerson

      The headline is confusing, to say the least. The definitions of what constitutes a Jew is constantly changing and is applied to the situation. Jews are a religion. Jews are a race. Jews are whatever they need at that particular moment and this confusion does them well in the short run. I think that in the long run, this mixture will harm them drastically as the world and its courts will demand a common definition that stands on its own merits.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        The world “WILL DEMAND” things from the Jews? We have to justify ourselves to the world? The world has been on our case for 2000 years complaining about all the things you listed. Well, we are sick of it and the death toll that accompanied these complaints We set up our own sovereign state in order to protect ourselves from busybodies who worry about us too much.
        If the West can accomadate 40+ Islamic states who propagate a missionary religion that claims it is the only legitimate religion, then they can accept one small Jewish state that only wants to mind its own business.

        Reply to Comment
    4. R5

      If Israel were committed to keeping black people out, it wouldn’t have absorbed all of the black Jews from Ethiopia. Israel is about protecting and preserving the Jews, regardless of skin color (although it has not done a perfect job). The state was founded as a home and bastion for an endangered and persecuted nation, and offers no apologies for that. Click on the author’s link, and you’ll see he follows CAIR and other anti-liberal, anti-progressive groups. Basically just another self-loathing head case eager to defame his own people for some kind of validation. +972 really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        Seriously? That myth’s been debunked 1000 times over. Israel isn’t a bastian of racial tolerance and the admittance of ethiopian jews doesn’t provide israel with a ‘see, we aren’t racist’ badge. Ask most ethiopians or african americans. 972 and haaretz have published hundreds of articles testifying to the abuse suffered by african jews at the hands of their israeli ‘brethren’. Pull up thousands of pages testifying to israeli racism. They were pressured to accept the ethiopian jews. As far as ‘letting them in’ – the zionist states need for cannon fodder and permanent underclass – et voila.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          I see. If Israel doesn’t bring in dark-skinned people it is racist, and if it does, it is racist. Gotcha.

          Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            You don’t see, but I see you.

            Reply to Comment
    5. AJew

      ” Chief among them are the new ban on immigration into the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries”

      I don’t normally comment on American politics but the above accusation just begs a response.

      1. Not all Muslim majority countries just a small subset which even Obama listed as posing potential danger to American lives.

      2. It isn’t an unlimited ban. It is just a moratorium for a limited time until such time as better procedures can be established to keep out the bad apples who may want to enter and harm Americans.

      Do innocents get caught up because of that moratorium? Of course! And it is regrettable.

      Could innocent American lives be lost if inadequate care is exercised about who America lets in? Of course. It has already happened in the past. Wanna argue that point? Think what happened in 9/11.

      Are these measures likely to be 100% effective? In a word: NAH! But does that mean that it is wrong to try? That depends on one’s political persuasion and set of priorities.

      The so called liberal progressives place the well being of other nationals above the well being of the American population in general.

      Conservatives like Trump on the other hand are willing to put the interests of Americans ahead of the interests of non Americans.

      Either way some innocents suffer. But it is a balancing act.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        ​”which even Obama listed as posing potential danger to American lives”

        “even Obama”

        In one word: bullshit.*

        Here’s why:

        Sorry, Mr. President: The Obama Administration Did Nothing Similar to Your Immigration Ban
        “until such time as better procedures can be established”

        This is the fear-mongering, fake non-issue Trump created. As if the Obama-led immigration authorities were not stringently and competently screening people but instead were letting “dangerous people pour in.” “Pour in!” The whole thing is a fake, Trumped-up issue. In the bombastic, fear-mongering tradition of Netanyahu. It is a calculated lie.*

        * “Frankfurt makes an important distinction between lying and bullshitting. Both the liar and the bullshitter try to get away with something. But ‘lying’ is perceived to be a conscious act of deception, whereas ‘bullshitting’ is unconnected to a concern for truth. Frankfurt regards this ‘indifference to how things really are’, as the essence of bullshit. Furthermore, a lie is necessarily false, but bullshit is not – bullshit may happen to be correct or incorrect. The crux of the matter is that bullshitters hide their lack of commitment to truth. Since bullshitters ignore truth instead of acknowledging and subverting it, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies.”

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “Sorry, Mr. President: The Obama Administration Did Nothing Similar”

          Typical Benny misrepresentation of what I said.

          I didn’t say Obama did something similar. I said Obama listed those countries as sources of terror.

          You are either a liar Benny for trying to misrepresent what I said. Or you are comprehension challanged. Which is it?

          Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        You’ve left out how the amount of Americans killed by refugees is negligible (compared to those killed by people who were born and raised as US citizens, and compared to toddlers whose parents forgot to lock up their guns for the night). As is typical with American (and everywhere else, I expect) nationalist/conservative politics, it’s not so much about facts as it about what people can be encouraged via suggestion into “feeling in their gut.” Usually by a martinet with a stupid haircut.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Really? Ray? What about 9/11?

          Moreover, a minority of Muslims/Arabs are busy committing terrorist acts all over the world. Haven’t you noticed?

          Anyway, I am not American. It is up to America and Americans how they want to deal with this issue. I just felt I needed to put a perspective on it rather than allow a blanket condemnation driven by ideology be the only person perspective. Hence my post. I just wanted to make sure that people consider both sides of the story. It isn’t a black and white choice.

          Reply to Comment
          • Chris

            “What about 9/11?”

            What about 9/11, AntiSemiteJew?:


            “Moreover, a minority of Muslims/Arabs are busy committing terrorist acts all over the world. Haven’t you noticed?”

            And your Jews/Zionists have been busy committing more terrorist acts on American soil than your “Muslims/Arabs” have been. Have you been too busy spewing foul anti-Semitic blood libels about Palestinians and hating your “Muslims/Arabs” to notice this little fact, Zionist anti-SemiteJew?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew


            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​”Really? Ray? What about 9/11?”

            Yes what about 9/11? Why then isn’t Trump including Saudi Arabia in the ban if its such a pressing, pressing danger and security issue? Youo are exactly right that it’s not black and white. And Trump has proceeded to make it totally black and white! “Dangerous people are pouring in! It’s a disaster! I’m the only one who can stop it! That so-called federal judge is ridiculous!” Like all good authoritarian demagogues.

            Obama kept us safe from 9/11 type attacks. And killed Bin Laden. Whereas the supposed “strong on defense” Republicans did neither. Bush blatantly ignored his counter-terrorism czar Richard Clark who repeatedly warned him about al-Qaeda, and then posed as Mr. Tough Guy and staged a bone-headed invasion of Iraq, arguably the worst foreign policy mistake in US history (talk about “a total disaster”) got thousands more Americans killed and maimed, and handed the whole mess to Obama to clean up. And the world is still reeling from Bush’s know-nothing idiocies. But that Obama, he’s supposedly the the one who “let Isis happen” I hear Israeli right wingers pontificate. Just enormous bullshit.

            And when Trump actually endangers America, when Trump’s idiocies are exploited by Isis types into goading terrorist attacks because they see how excitable and psychologically vulnerable and needing to appear all-powerful Trump is, then Trump will launch into triumphal “I told you so!” blaming that will get causality backwards. And people like the right wingers here will lap it up like sweet cream.

            Your “even Obama” is by itself offensive. As if President Obama did not have American security first and foremost in his mind, as if Obama ever hesitated to call terrorist threats when he saw them or to go after terrorists. And go after them smartly, and well. It is offensive bullshit: “even Obama.” Typical Israeli stuff about Obama. “Even Obama.” Just upside down nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Your “even Obama” is by itself offensive”

            Oh sorry Benny for offending you.

            But I gotta just observe how easily you are offended. Pity you don’t take a breath before you take the trouble to post your many inane posts which constantly malign offend decent Israelis.

            On second thought, Benny, I am not sorry for offending you. You will get over it the same way that we get over YOUR many offensive remarks.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Yes what about 9/11? Why then isn’t Trump including Saudi Arabia in the ban if its such a pressing, pressing danger”

            You are asking me Benny? I was just the messenger who tried to interpret what Trump did and what it means.

            You want Trump to include Saudi Arabia in the Ban? Talk to him. He is YOUR president.

            Reply to Comment
    6. MM

      Israel is white nationalism. Without it you couldnt recognize Israel from the rest of the ME

      Reply to Comment
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