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Anti-African racism not uncommon in Israel

A recent survey found a majority of Jewish Israelis to consider African immigrants a “cancer”

Gulf News

Dubai: Anti-African racism acts in Israel have been reported for years, but they have particularly come to light in the past two years as the number of African refugees seeking asylum there has soared.

Israel is home to two categories of Africans: Jews and non-Jews. Many Jewish Africans moved to Israel in accordance with the Israeli law, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone who can prove Jewish ancestry. They were believed to be members of what are thought to be the ancient lost tribes of Israel. In recent years, Israel has sought to “bring back” descendents of such tribes from Africa, India and elsewhere. Many are however rejected by the rabbinical authorities as Jews, and are forced to undergo conversion.

Jewish Africans in Israel have, however, inadvertently been caught up in anti-African racism in the country, with many confusing them for illegal non-Jewish asylum seekers escaping persecution in their countries.

During protests last year, a number of Jewish Africans were targeted, forcing some to don distinctive clothing indicating their faith, according to media reports.

Many of the recent African immigrants have come from faraway lands like Eritrea and Sudan, crossing by foot into Israel through the Egyptian Sinai peninsula with the help of human traffickers. Some die on the way, or are killed or sold by their traffickers. According to news reports, more than 60,000 Africans have entered Israel since 2006.

The anti-African sentiment is prevalent on the Israeli street and supported by Israeli politicians who have campaigned against the sullying of what has been called the Jewish purity of the state.

Last year, a series of demonstrations and violent attacks against asylum seekers took place in Israel. In one case in May, molotov cocktails were thrown at sleeping Eritrean refugees in Tel Aviv by Jewish extremists.

More than four out of five Jewish Israelis said they supported protests against African refugees.

Six hundred Israelis were polled, including Palestinian citizens of Israeli, who were much less likely to object to the African immigrants.

During one of the protests an Israeli member of parliament, Miri Regev, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party said publicly that African migrants were “a cancer in our body”. A subsequent survey conducted by a local organisation found that more than half of Israeli Jews agreed that Africans were “a cancer”.

Shortly after the protests, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the “swift deportation” of the “illegal”, non-Jewish migrants. Netanyahu warned that African migrants were “threatening the fabric of Israeli society, its national security and its national identity.”

Between 1979 and 1990, during the Ethiopian Civil War, approximately 7,200 Ethiopian Jews sought refuge in Israel. In 1991, the Israeli government organised “Operation Solomon” during which more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were transferred to Israel.