As a nation founded to provide a homeland for oppressed people fleeing vicious totalitarian rule, Israel’s increasingly inhumane treatment of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees is tragically hypocritical.
(Sudanese families returning to Juba- Photo from Reuters)
To incite anti-Semitic hatred through the population, and to justify the Nazi regime’s genocide of the Jews, Hitler used derogatory rhetoric to portray them as a threat to German security and identity. “The Jews” he once said, “are a cancer on the breast of Germany”. In May, with eerily similar phrasing, Israeli Parliament member Miri Regev proclaimed that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body”.
The past month has seen an increase in the demonisation of, and violence against, sub-Saharan Africans across Israel. Aggressive government policy, including detention and deportation, has been mainly focussed on the thousands of Sudanese refugees fleeing the war-torn states; a widely criticised move that is in direct violation of international human rights law. Earlier this week, over a hundred men, women and children were deported to South Sudan as Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister, vowed to deport every Sudanese and Eritrean person in the country.
The Israeli government have employed a consistent tactic of scare-mongering to ensure popular support for its repressive policies. Infiltrators has been the most popular term among Israeli officials to incite fear and and hatred among the population. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently described the presence of the refugees as a “[grave threat to] the social fabric of society, national security and national identity”; perhaps an exaggeration considering Israel’s population of 7.8million includes only around 50-60,000 so-called “illegal” migrants. The actual threat posed by these people is also easily disputed, and appears to be more of a scapegoat for failing social and economic policy. In a totalitarian move reminiscent of Nazi policy, the government now imposes a maximum of five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000,000 (USD) for harbouring a refugee or “illegal” migrant, including Palestinians; indicating that the Israeli government is forcing citizens to ignore the Jewish tradition of compassion for fellow man, and ensuring that they embrace divisiveness. The Jerusalem Post reported thoughts from one Christian man facing deportation to South Sudan, “I remember growing up reading the Bible thinking Israel is people who help each other… we realised that its not Israel any longer”.
Since such vile opinions have become more widespread, citizens have tried to take the law into their own hands, with the misguided belief that they are protecting their country. Recent protests have seen African refugees and migrants face vicious verbal and physical assaults, violence that has even been encouraged by an Israeli politician, Aryeh Eldad. The parliamentary member, who resides in an illegally occupied West Bank settlement, recently declared his opinion that “anyone that penetrates Israel’s border should be shot”. A statement so bold and hostile that it seems taken out of context, but within context it is even worse. Eldad lists some of those who he believes deserve death for crossing Israel’s borders; “a Swedish tourist, Sudanese from Eritrea, Eritreans from Sudan, Gazans from Sinai. Whoever touches Israel’s border – shot.”
The threatening xenophobia being fostered by Israeli politics and society is something any sane-thinking person should be afraid of, especially as a citizen of a country that continues to maintain good relations with such a government. The men, women and children who have been labelled infiltrators by Israeli society are victims of a government venting its anger because international civilised society is unwilling to bend every law in the book to please them. Andrew Akolawine, a father of four being deported to South Sudan after spending five years living in Israel, joked “I’m very proud that I am part of a people [that] Israel thinks are so important that they don’t talk about the Palestinians anymore, just us”. Unfortunately true; the Israeli government have already successfully demonised Palestinians, so the violence shown against them by the IDF goes mostly unquestioned. It sadly seems that the attitudes to sub-Saharan Africans in Israel is going the same way.