(Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it had started rounding up African migrants in the first stage of a controversial “emergency plan” to intern and deport thousands deemed a threat to the Jewish character of the state. Israel Radio reported that dozens of Africans, mainly from South Sudan, had already been detained in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, including mothers and children.
“This is only a small group of the infiltrators,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai said. “I’m not acting out of hatred of strangers but love of my people and to rescue the homeland.”
The goal is to repatriate all the estimated 60,000 African migrants, whose growing numbers are seen by many Israelis as a law and order issue and even a threat to the long-term viability of the Jewish state. For some in Israel, built by immigrants and refugees, internment and deportation are bad solutions that may damage the international image of the country needlessly.
They say rounding up members of a different racial group and holding them in camps for deportation may invite allusions to the Nazi Holocaust, however unfair such comparisons may be, and betrays Jewish values. Many Sudanese, including hundreds who escaped from conflict and humanitarian disaster in Darfur, have been in Israel for several years, living in legal limbo without formal refugee status, but peaceably, they say.
Now they are caught up in a wave of hostility towards blacks in general, focused on a poor area of south Tel Aviv where they congregate.
“We’re being called a cancer and an AIDs virus on the Israeli people, by politicians in the Knesset,” said protest organizer Jacob Berri. He accused government right-wingers of racist incitement and inflammatory language. Israel has now built a high fence along the frontier. Poor south Tel Aviv residents say affluent north Tel Aviv Jews can afford to be liberal, because the Africans are not in their back yard. An opinion poll last week showed 52 percent of Israelis agree that the Africans are “a cancer”.
“They’ve come here to rape and steal,” one Israeli woman shouted at a small but ugly anti-migrant demonstration earlier this month in south Tel Aviv. “We should burn them out, put poison in their food,” said an elderly man.