Planned Israeli Detention Camps for Africans Draw Human Rights Protests

An Israeli law allowing the arrest and detention of illegal immigrants for up to 3 years without trial has been denounced as contrary to basic human rights by Human Rights Watch.

Israel has about 60,000 illegal immigrants from Africa, nearly 1% of the population. Some are from Darfur and South Sudan, and came because they heard that Israel is supporting their cause on human rights grounds. Others are simply looking for a job in one of the region’s most dynamic economies.

Israeli government strategy is to round up Africans in Israel and to hold them in detention centers before expelling them.

Aljazeera English reports on US State Department criticisms that Israel provides no services to asylum-seekers.

While in a recent poll a majority of Jewish Israelis were comfortable with Thai, Filipino or non-Jewish Eastern European immigrants in Israel, some 51% called African illegal immigrants a cancer on society; virtually none of the respondents said they lived near Africans. And, only 19% of Arab Israelis polled had such negative feelings toward the African immigrants.

It is hard to escape some unsavory conclusions here. One is that Israeli championing of human rights in East Africa is somewhat instrumental and that practical help to Fur people from Darfur, such as giving them asylum and jobs, is not on offer even while pro-Israel groups lead campaigns to criticize the Sudanese government. That is, all states have the right to control their borders and to deport illegal immigrants, but vocal championing of oppressed ethnic groups implies a willingness to establish basic procedures for acceptance of asylum-seekers from among them.

Another is that a lot of Israelis have more problems with African immigrants than with European or Asian ones.

The issue has come to a head recently, with a riot against illegal immigrants from Africa by Jews in Tel Aviv, and a demonstration on Saturday in the same city by Africans demanding rights.

Israel’s government is determined to round up and deport the estimated 1500 Africans from South Sudan, on the grounds that that country is now safe for them, since it seceded from Sudan. In fact, South Sudan is a mess.

But beyond the humanitarian and race issues raised by the Likud Party’s policy toward African immigrants, the problem is larger. The whole idea of an ethnically-based country in an age of globalization is under severe pressure.

The Israeli Right Wing constantly demands that the country be recognized as a ‘Jewish state.’ But 20% of its citizens are Palestinian-Israelis. In addition, some 300,000 citizens are acknowledged in the census as not Jewish (many of them Eastern European immigrants of Eastern Orthodox Christian heritage), and many demographers think that the number of non-Jews is actually much greater. The Grand Rabbinate has repeatedly refused to recognize these persons, whose mothers were not Jewish, as Jews. Guest workers from Thailand and the Philippines have been brought in to work on Israeli farms or serve as nannies. (Such immigrants have come in large numbers to Lebanon and the Gulf oil countries, as well).

In short, Israel is a multicultural society that refuses to admit to itself that it is multicultural, because such an admission flies in the face of Zionist aspirations for a monochrome Jewish state. Demography and globalization, however, tell against this nineteenth-century romantic-nationalist vision, which confuses nation-hood with an ethnic state. In fact, there are no nations of the sort early Zionist thinkers imagined. The French include Bretons, Alsatians, people of Provencale, Basques, and now substantial numbers of Arabs and Africans, not to mention descendants of a million Italian workers who came in the late nineteenth century. Israelis are similarly diverse, and even more diverse if the de facto annexation of the Palestinian West Bank were recognized, in which case Israel has a population of 10 million, not 7.5 million, and the Palestinian-Israelis are 3.5 million or 35%, not merely a fifth. That is, the actually-existing Israel is more like Malaysia than it is like Armenia. In a self-avowedly multicultural Israel, the Sudanese and other immigrants would not be a conceptual problem.

9 Responses

  1. Isn’t the population of the Palestinian territories 3.5 million or so? If you add that to the 1.2 million Palestinians in Israel isn’t the total closer to 5 million?

  2. Juan — Totally OT, and perhaps off your radar screen, but any knowledge to share of what’s happening in Myanamar? The AFP line is that Muslims, mainly refugees from Bangladesh, have been doing bad things and are getting paid back, but the world is rarely this simple. Thanks.

  3. As people used to say about the old USSR, Israel is just riddled with “internal contradictions,” only they seem to want to stick to them to the bitter, bitter end.

  4. Author Thomas Friedman in his award-winning book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem”, set forth that conservative Israeli politicians actually enjoy the stalemate that has occured since 1967 where those living in occupied territories have no citizenship, and hence no voting rights to influence the outcome of Israeli elections or otherwise have any say on how they are ruled. If those residing in the occupied territories, including Gaza, were conferred Israeli citizenshp, the percentage of Arab Israelis would approach 50% with a birth rate that greatly exceeds that of Jewish Israelis.

    The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan had a lecture series last October that descibed the West Bank as a morass, in a legal sense, since Jordan’s prior claims to the area were legally untenable and no Israeli government wanted to annex it. It exists as a quintessential no man’s land under IDF occupation and a Palestinain Authority with limited autonomy and various armed militias that have some authority by virtue of their brute force capabilities, such as Tanzim.

    Israel in an ethnic sense is a true “melting pot”. Returning Jews have come in significant numbers from Europe, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, and Yemen since the end of WWII, although in a sociological sense, Ashkenazi Jews have been the elite group that have exerted significant influence upon Israeli politics and the economy, whereas Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews have complained as being treated like second-class citizens. Only four American-born Jews have ever sat in the Knesset, wheras in recent years, Jews from Eastern Europe have achieved political success, including Avigdor Lieberman.

    Israeli’s major weakness in the eyes of the world has been its treatment of its minorities, in a legal and sociological sense. The world community became acutely aware of this during the First Intifada and ongoing external pressure has failed to bring about meaningful change. The Jewish community in Israel enjoyed high moral standing in the world community in the years following the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel, but that standing has progressively dwindled due to perceived insensitivity to its minority populations.

  5. Administrative detention has long been used against Arabs – no one cares, so it’s ok. But now the peace and freedom loving Jewish state has turned its guns against, gasp!, black people! Africans, no less.

    This sort of thing usually stirs up outrage and condemnation. This case will be the exception.

    Oh, and somebody should ask the Israelis how illegal immigrants managed to get into Israel in the first place.

    • somebody should ask the Israelis how illegal immigrants managed to get into Palestine in the first place.

  6. Hi,

    Our AlJazerra reported that the Pakistani American sponsered Seasame Street has been canceled due to rorting. It seems the production team was all staffed by the director’s family members.

    Next week the Aussie ABC will have an hour on Bradley Manning the “forgotten man”. Should be interesting and the clip a available on their website.


  7. Consider an alternative explanation that has very little with race and more to do with the role & responsibilities of a nation state.

    The fact is that Israel has welcomed literally tens of thousands of Africans into its society since the 1980s from Ethiopia. But the estimated 60,000 illegals who have entered are not seeking political asylum; they are seeking work. If it were the former, you would have seen women & children making the trek. Instead, it’s an overwhelming cohort of males.

    Egypt let the illegals pass through Sinai for years and unfortunately, Israel’s only now waking up to a big social problem. Many of the illegals have set up squatter camps in the country’s big cities, and yes, they’ve turned into high crime areas.

    Israel remains a flourishing multi-ethnic society. Indeed, the mixing between white and black Jews is proceeding apace and speaks well for the future. What’s more, let’s also recall that the assimilation of blacks has been largely successful. Compare that with what goes on in neighboring Arab countries – as the recent issue of the Economist notes – where anti-black racism remains high.

    But there’s a bigger point: Israel, like any other nation, is entirely justified in deciding who it allows to settle inside its borders.

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