Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, addressing the "African-Americans Speak Out for Palestine" forum on January 31, 2009 in Detroit. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Israel Continues Anti-African Policies
Decades of occupation in Palestine fortifies apartheid state
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has praised efforts aimed at banning African migrants from entering and remaining in the state of Israel. During 2012, over 9,000 South Sudanese and Eritreans were deported from the country.
In addition to the deportations, the government is constructing a 225 kilometer fence to keep Africans from entering from the Sinai region of Egypt. The Netanyahu administration is facing elections on January 22 and has reiterated its commitment to remove the approximately 70,000 African migrants from the occupied land of the Palestinians.
Tens of thousands of African refugees have sought asylum in Israel after fleeing from conflict zones in East and Central Africa. Israeli politicians have accused the migrants of criminal activity and over the last several months they have been subjected to racist demonstrations, physical assaults as well as the destruction of their homes and businesses.
In late December, a 21-year-old Jewish man who had been accused of throwing eight petrol bombs into four private dwellings that house Africans, was offered a plea bargain by prosecutors that would result in six months of community service and no prison time. Although reports claim that no one was hurt in the arson attacks, these crimes could have easily resulted in numerous deaths. (Jewish Standard, January 4)
On December 31, Strong Israel Party Member of Parliament Michael Ben Ari participated in an anti-African demonstration in Southern Tel Aviv. The protest took place after the Israeli police claimed that an Eritrean migrant had been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault.
The demonstrators cursed Africans accusing them of making Israel a “living hell.” The protesters then insisted that the upcoming elections should be focused on the mass deportation of all Africans from Israel. (Antiwar.com, December 31)
Another religious party, Shas, has long made the existence of African migrants a cornerstone of their political program. A recent campaign video featuring Interior Minister Eli Yishai referring to Africans as “infiltrators” has reportedly been withdrawn.
The video accuses Africans of creating shortages in housing and bringing about inflation. The video concludes by promising that if the Shas Party wins the elections “not one Sudanese will remain” in Israel.
Holocaust Scholars Intervene in Political Debate
In response to the racist attacks on Africans inside Israel, a petition initiated by leading Holocaust and genocide scholars has been issued calling upon the world to share responsibility for the presence of Africans in Israel.
This initiative is being directed by Prof. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute of Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C. and Prof. Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The petition has been signed by 125 academics, clergy human rights activists, interfaith leaders, writers and artists from the United States, Israel, South Africa, Sweden, Chile, Canada, France and Poland. (Forward, December 27)
The petition says in part that “We hope Israel will play an appropriate role in such an effort, alongside other nations that are committed to doing their fair share.” The petition has been criticized for distorting the situation involving African migrants in Israel and downplaying the racist character of the attacks on these communities along with its politicization.
According to Medoff, “It’s not fair that Israel should be expected to shoulder the lion’s share of the solution to this problem, because every country in the world has the same moral responsibility to help the oppressed when they can. For the international community to expect Israel to take in all these refugees and then accuse Israel of racism if it doesn’t is simply unfair.” (Jewish Standard, January 4)
It appears as if this petition is being circulated in response to an earlier effort that condemned Israel for its policy toward African migrants. The other petition issued several months before charging the Israeli government actions against migrants as being “inhumane and unjust,” was signed by a host of Jewish community leaders in the U.S. including Rabbi Michael Chernick, professor at the Hebrew Union College and Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu of The Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership.
Daniel Sieradski, a resident of Syracuse, New York, and an advocate for refugees, drafted his own petition last spring also condemning the Israeli government policies. He said that “These Holocaust scholars completely ignore Israel’s brutal treatment of and racist incitement against African asylum seekers, instead lavishing praise upon Israel, which has built internment camps for asylum seekers.” (Jewish Standard)
Racism and Segregation Are Official Israeli Policy
A growing awareness internationally of the plight of the Palestinians and African migrants is serving to further isolate the state of Israel. In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. presidential elections, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began another bombing operation against the Palestinians in Gaza, known as the largest open air prison in the world.
When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas won recognition for the people as a nonmember state within the United Nations General Assembly, these efforts were opposed by the state of Israel and its principal supporter the U.S. government. Other developments within the Palestinian nation to build unity between Hamas and Fatah have been condemned by Israel and largely ignored by the Obama administration.
A recent visitor to Israel was struck by the apartheid character of the social system. Sa’ed Adel Atshan, a Harvard graduate students wrote that “I come from a place (the occupied West Bank) where a central feature of the apartheid system we live under here is a two-tiered road network: Jewish –only roads for Israeli settlers and inferior roads for Palestinian Christians and Muslims.” (omidsafi.religionnews.com, January 6)
Another observer, Omid Safi, wrote of the contradictions in U.S. policy toward Israel that “We in America eventually got rid of segregated lunch counters, segregated buses and segregated schools. In Israel, there are still segregated roads, segregated housing and segregated sidewalks. I simply wonder how many Americans would support a nation where whites, Blacks, Hispanics and other ethnicities would be issued different colored ID cards, different colored license plates, and be discriminated upon based on those ethnicities.” (omidsafi.religionnews.com)
South African Bishop Desmond Tutu said in the aftermath of his visit to occupied Palestine that “It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.” The African National Congress (ANC) ruling party at its recent elective conference at Manguang made support for the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)”movement its official policy.
Also there was a resolution passed abhorring the attacks on Africans in the state of Israel. The ANC resolution urged that the issue of the treatment of Africans in Israel be taken up by the African Union, the continental organization which has 54-member states.
Apparently not satisfied with the escalation of attacks against Palestinians and African migrants, the Netanyahu government announced that it is constructing another border fence in the occupied Golan Heights in Syria along with coordinating its intelligence gathering apparatus with the U.S. In remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that “we will defend this border against both infiltration and terrorism.” (New York Times, January 6)
Netanyahu went on to say that “I also submit to the cabinet the fact that the Syrian regime is very unstable, that the question of chemical weapons worries us. He stressed that Israel was working with the U.S. “so that we might be prepared for any scenario and possibility that could arise.”