Jewish Journal


May 23, 2012

The odd connection between violence and race


In the past couple of weeks, Israeli newspapers’ headlines read “violence.” From murders to stabbings, rapes and even violence toward animals, the summer has brought a storm of violence upon Israel. The papers told the many stories from beginning to end, not leaving a single detail behind, including the criminals’ ethnicity and nationality. Some of the crimes were committed by Israeli Jews, some by Israeli Arabs, some by African refugees.

Indeed, Israel has become the home of hundreds of refugees who have found shelter here. According to the International Refugee Law, if a person requests shelter in a certain state because there is an actual risk for his/her life at their homeland, the state must not deport him/her. The problem is it is hard to tell which refugees have their lives at risk, and which decided Israel is a fine place to live. The latter are illegal immigrants.  Because it is impossible to simply kick all immigrants out, for the fear of dismissing legitimate refugees, there have been several governmental campaigns calling citizens of Israel to report on any illegal immigrant who works here that they might know. There have been some arrests, but even still, there are many illegal immigrants still living here. This is a very complex situation, mainly because of the difficulty of making an assessment on the amount of danger one is facing in his homeland. According to the assessments, as of 2005, tens of thousands of refugees came to Israel, most of them entered through the border of Sinai. Only hundreds of them are defined as such by law, as they face a true danger in returning to their homelands.

In 2009, the then new internal affairs minister, Eli Yishai, began working on dismissing all illegal residents from Israel. Starting with “small portions,” hundreds of families were deported from Israel, to mixed reviews from the press and people. After being the top news topic for months, the refugees issue remained on a low flame, until last week. Due to the involvement of African refugees in a few of the violent cases recently, Yishai, who seems to believe Israel needs a new scandal, said that he “would place all of them, with no exceptions, in prison or a closed facility, and from there, provide them with funds and send them back to their countries” (free translation from Hebrew). He also mentioned that the very few defined-by-law refugees will be allowed to stay here. This comment was related to his opinion on the violence roaming the streets. And yes, this was a very racist comment made by an official who was chosen as a representation of the public. He unwisely claimed that most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity, in a statement that couldn’t sound more random to me. True, according to the Israeli Police, 40% of the severe violent cases reported in Tel-Aviv involved African immigrants. But from that to an overall departure of an entire population, the gap is enormous.

Yishai’s remark goes not only beyond any humanitarian conception, but also beyond what is expected from a Jewish person. The land of the Jews was founded 64 years ago, but until then, for thousands of years the Jews wandered around the world, with no place to call “home.” Rootless, we were constantly deported from places and faced many false accusations and racist remarks. The inclusion of all Jews under the same umbrella soon became a valid perception, which peaked at the beginning of the 20th century. One sad day, when the world was low and people were looking for someone to blame for their troubles, one man decided that everyone who is different from what he defined as “standard” was that “someone.” Throughout the early decades of the 1900’s, when living in Europe became dangerous for Jews, most countries refused to accept Jewish refugees and provide them a shelter. Many years have gone by, and we founded that place where all Jews are safe from empty judgments. As Jews, we know best about being different, and the risk of turning our back to a person in distress. The Jews living in Europe at that dark time, were fat thieves with big noses, and had the blame for WW1 and all that followed. Back then, Europe was a place where human kind was ranked by races. There were no private people with different personalities, just labeled origins.

It is unreasonable that a person whose roots are deep in the Jewish history will make a racist remark, not to mention one of that kind. Deport all African immigrants because they are the reason for the violence level in Israel? To me, other than failing as a Jew, Yishai failed as a human being. A violent person is one who has a troubled personality or a troubles socio-economical status, not one who has a “troubled” ethnicity.

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