[News] What Israels anti-African pogroms tell us about Zionism
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 31 16:59:07 EDT 2012
What Israels anti-African pogroms tell us about Zionism
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
A week ago, Tel Aviv's African migrant community
came under a sustained mob attack, including
vandalism, looting and firebombing. Robert
Kazandjian, Ali Hocine Dimerdji and Samantha
Asumadu argue that these events, and their
aftermath, provide further evidence of the
inherently racist nature of political Zionism.
Hocine Dimerdji, and
A week ago, on the night of Wednesday 23rd May,
South Tel Aviv erupted, becoming the epicentre of
an attack by an angry, violent mob against
members of the citys African migrant population,
deliberately targeted because of no other reason than their ethnicity.
African-owned businesses and homes were destroyed
and looted. There were no fatalities but many
were injured. Social media was alive with images
and information regarding the attacks, pointing
out the absolute apathy, even complicity, of the authorities.
This attack on the African minority in Tel Aviv
is not an isolated event. Wednesday nights
violence was the culmination of a series of
racist attacks, including the firebombing of
homes and a kindergarten in south Tel Aviv
neighbourhoods. In fact, these attacks illustrate
the prevalent high level of racial tension within
the city and in Israel as a whole.
One cannot fully understand the events of
Wednesday without an understanding of the various
contexts at play, historical, political and
ideological. Steven Salaita writes in
Electronic Intifada that Zionism is an ideology
that can accommodate liberal and humanistic
discourses, (but) cannot be practised without a
concomitant abrogation of the rights of those who are not Jewish.
Zionism, in other words, dictates racial and
religious supremacy. Israel, a state built on
ethnically cleansed land, thus operates under the
veil of a democracy in which the Jewish
population is the exclusive beneficiary of the democratic process.
However, Israels Jewish population is itself
stratified within an ethnic hierarchy, where the
prosperous Ashkenazi (white Jews of European
descent) dominate the economy, media and
politics. In comparison, the Mizrahi and Sephardi
(Jews of Middle Eastern and North African
descent) suffer socio-economic hardship.
Ethnic and religious minorities are uniformly
oppressed, from Palestinian Muslims and
Christians to African migrants. The disparity is
well-documented. Human Rights Watch states that
in Israels segregated school system Palestinian
Arab children get an education inferior to that
of Jewish children, and their relatively poor
performance in school reflects this.
Discrimination continues into higher education,
employment, healthcare and housing. If we
consider the core principle of Zionism, the
construction of a Jewish homeland in order to
preserve Jewish identity and ensure Jewish
security, this oppression is inevitable. However,
it is the treatment of black Jews that reveals
most about the racism ingrained in Israeli society.
Hanan Chehata writes, in
Race and Class journal, that the Falasha,
brought to Israel in mass
transfer operations, have found themselves
relegated to an underclass. Chehata argues that
black Jews are not only racially discriminated
against but are also used to bolster the populations of illegal settlements.
In 2010, the Israel lobby group FLAME (Facts and
Logic About the Middle East) ran an advertisement
in Jewish American newspapers in an attempt to
refute claims that Israel is an apartheid state.
The advertisement argued that Israel has brought
in about 70,000 black Ethiopian Jews, who despite
their backwardness have become fully integrated
citizens of Israel. The advertisement
perpetuates the image of the uncivilised savage;
we might expect to find such language in
nineteenth century European colonial texts.
Jonathan Cook wrote an extensive piece for The
National, an English language newspaper,
published daily in Abu Dhabi, that examines
Israels treatment of Ethiopians. Cook writes
that Health officials in Israel are subjecting
many female Ethiopian immigrants to a
controversial long-term birth control drug. He
further states that 57 per cent of Depo Provera
users in Israel are Ethiopian, even though the
community accounts for less than two per cent of the total population.
The drug has a wide range of damaging side
effects and was used by the South African
apartheid government to limit the fertility of
black women. Yali Hashash, a researcher at Haifa
University said similar practices were used
against Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in the 1950s
and 1960s because Israels leading
gynaecologists regarded Arab Jews as primitive
and incapable of acting responsibly. The
evidence is difficult to refute and presents a
compelling conclusion: the preservation of Jewish
identity in the eyes of the state appears only to encompass white Europeans.
Although oppression takes on many guises, the
language of oppression is universal. From the top
down, prominent Israeli parliamentarians have
fanned the flames of racial hatred and
undoubtedly incited violence. In a cabinet
meeting last week, Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu described African migrants in Israel as
illegal infiltrators flooding the country
threatening our existence as a Jewish and
our national security and our national identity.
A familiar tune: in 1915, the CUP described the
Armenian minority in Ottoman Turkey as a threat
to Turkish security and identity. The Ottomans
chief propagandist, Ziya Gokalp, insisted Turkey
could only be revitalised if it rid itself of its
non-Muslim minorities, arguing that Armenians
were a foreign body in the national Turkish
state. A few years later, Nazi propagandists
Goebbels and Rosenberg propounded the central
notion that Germany needed to be Judenfrei (free
of Jewish presence) in order to revitalise
itself. In both instances, these fabrications
created the cultural space for racial hatred and were the pretext for genocide.
Indeed, the Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai
has played a vocal role in the vitriolic
rhetoric. On Wednesday May 16th, he warned, in an
interview on Israeli Army Radio, that the
majority of African migrants in Israel are
criminals and must be detained, stating:
I would do something harsh, but simple, put all
of them, without exception, in prisons or
detention centres, or divide them up and put the
ones who dont commit crimes in detention centres.
In an attempt to sugar coat his racism, Yishai
invoked a distinction between asylum seekers
and genuine refugees, arguing that only an
extremely small number of African migrants are
genuine refugees. He also tried to temper his original claim by further adding:
I believe that most of them dont (engage in
criminal activity), but perhaps Ill be
criticized for that too, and the ones who commit
even the smallest crime: to jail. From there,
they will get a departing grant, or a deportation
grant, call it whatever you want, and sent back
to the countries they came from. We are losing
the country. These incidents everyone is talking
about now, I heard about them three years ago when I toured south Tel Aviv.
In the same interview, Yishai warned that the
migrants are giving birth to hundreds of
thousands, and the Zionist dream is dying. As
mentioned earlier, the Israeli state appears to
be taking direct action to preserve the Zionist dream that Yishai refers to.
This was not the first time Yishai publicly aired
anti-African racist sentiments. Speaking at a
conference in Ramle on April 15, 2012, he
reiterated his belief that African migrants
should refrain from having children. He recounted
the story of a disabled Jewish Israeli woman who
employed an African migrant caregiver. According
to Yishai, The (disabled Israeli) woman had a
foreign worker taking care of her, that foreign worker got pregnant.
Indeed, the African woman did become pregnant and
requested maternity leave. Yishai found her
request, and the subsequent ruling by the Israeli
Supreme Court that affirmed it, scandalous. In
response, he said [He] would have ordered her to
be sent back to her country of origin, arguing that:
Foreign workers may enter the country
But if a
woman decides to stay here, build a home here,
and get pregnant here that was not our
intention. Therefore if she decides to get
pregnant, I feel that its only right for her to
return to her country of origin.
If it is not the states intention for foreign
migrants to assimilate themselves into the very
fabric of Israeli society then we can only assume
their sole collective purpose is to be exploited,
to have their labour power extracted before being removed.
In a democratic system, the words of politicians
are expected to influence our own actions and
attitudes. The racist mistruths and
scaremongering perpetuated by Israels
high-ranking parliamentarians have undoubtedly
ignited anger and hate towards the African
migrant community, inciting the pogrom in south Tel Aviv.
Wednesday nights violence followed an angry
protest-rally, during which high-ranking members
of the ruling Likud party delivered racist,
vitriolic speeches. MK Miri Regev, echoing
pre-genocidal rhetoric, described African
migrants as a cancer in our body, blaming
leftists for the fact that the government has
not pursued a policy of mass expulsion. MK Danny
Dannon, also spoke and later posted on Facebook
that Israel is at war. An enemy state of
infiltrators was established in Israel, and its
capital is south Tel Aviv, referring to African
migrants, a significant proportion of whom live in the district.
Upon the conclusion of the rally, a mob of an
estimated 1000 Israelis approached the African
migrant neighbourhood in south Tel Aviv. Police
halted the mobs progress, stopping them from
crossing a bridge that leads into the heart of
the residential area and arguably avoiding a massacre.
The mob proceeded to rampage through the Hatikva
neighbourhood, attacking African men and women
they encountered. An Eritrean woman was assaulted
with bottles on Hanoch Street. The baby she was
carrying dropped to the floor. A Sudanese man was
set upon as he sat in his car and the windows were shattered.
The mob chanted slogans like The people want the
Sudanese deported and Infiltrators get out of
our homes as they careered through the streets.
The violent rampage continued for several hours
through the night, resulting in a surprisingly
low amount of arrests, between 11 and 17 depending on sources.
+972 Magazine, an independent, non-profit
publication generally regarded as representing
leftwing, progressive views did publish
eyewitness accounts of the pogrom. However, they
also published a vitriolic piece written by Larry
Derfner that tows the Likud party line,
contributing to the hatred and violence towards
African migrants. In his piece, Derfner, who
identifies himself as an ultra liberal Zionist, wrote:
with at least 60,000 here and 2,000 to 3,000
more arriving monthly, all of them crowding into
a few neighbourhoods of poor, conservative,
frightened Jews, they are a threat to the fabric
of this society. Given their numbers, theres a
limit to how much compassion Israel can show
them. At this point, we have to worry about our own first.
Derfners comments validate the argument that
while Zionism can accommodate liberal and
humanistic discourses, it cannot be practised
without the abuse and disregard of the rights of those who are not Jewish.
In the aftermath of the rampage, Danny Dannon,
speaking to Haaretz, called for the forced
expulsion of African migrants from population
centres in Israel. He also demanded the
acceleration of the building of detention centres
where African migrants would be held, stating:
the infiltrators must be distanced immediately,
We must expedite the construction of temporary
detention facilities and remove Africans from population centres.
The Israeli media have been quick to emphasise
that impoverished, working class Mizrahi Jews
have carried out the attacks on African migrant
communities. This reinforces the ethnic hierarchy
and creates a space in which the Israeli
authorities can deflect responsibility for both
the violence and the conditions in which the Mizrahi subsist.
Predictably, the old colonial tactic of divide
and rule is all too evident here. The ruling
class are the cause of the hardship that the
Mizrahi and Sephardi suffer. Through rhetoric and
vitriol they are able to redirect anger toward
African migrant communities who are victims of greater oppression themselves.
If the Israeli authorities continue to downplay
and ignore what happened in Tel Aviv last week,
there will undoubtedly be a repeat. If the men
and women who govern Israel continue to fuel the
fires of racial hatred, the severity of the
violence will increase and the scale will spread.
Robert Kazandjian is a London-based freelance
journalist and researcher. He has previously been
published by The Independent and The Guardian,
and writes on class, gender, race and
international affairs. He's on Twitter at
Ali Hocine Dimerdji is a French Studies PhD
student at the University of Nottingham, and an
Algerian citizen who has lived both in Algeria
and Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter
Samantha Asumadu is a British film director,
producer and journalist. She has worked mainly in
the Great Lakes region of Africa doing news
features and documentaries, and also campaigns on
democracy and safety issues. She's on Twitter
522 Valencia Street
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