Israelis’ xenophobia, in their own words

Israel’s most widely circulated newspaper covers the growing tide of hate for asylum seekers. Israelis try to portray these “foreigners”, who number 0.4% of the country’s population, as a dangerous burden, but it seems refugees fleeing genocide have more to fear from Israelis than the other way around

Yedioth Aharonoth, Israel’s most widely circulated newspaper, is covering, for the second day in a row, the tidal wave of racism which is gripping the country. The tone of coverage is strangely ambiguous in a nation where every sentence seems to end with an exclamation mark. It is as if the editors want to stop this terrible trend, yet at the same time know that many of their readers are part of the problem, and do not want to alienate them.

Yesterday, the newspaper courageously combined numerous cases of exclusions: of asylum seekers, of Israeli Arabs, of Jewish Ethiopians, and even of disabled people. On the other hand, it also published on its front page an appalling op-ed by Yair Lapid, one of their columnists, an evening news presenter, and the son of a former government minister, with political aspirations of his own. In the article, Lapid lamented the extra burden asylum seekers add to already impoverished localities in Israel, amplified by the fact that the government completely neglects these refugees and does not provide them even with the most basic services.

His solution was not, god forbid, to treat asylum seekers better or invest in those localities (a good idea regardless of the refugee situation). He did not even suggest housing refugees in lucrative neighborhoods, like the one where he resides (although, actually, some of them are already there – you just don’t hear about it, because that would spoil the narrative). Instead, he insisted they should be kept out. Lapid, like his late father, combines a penchant to obsessively mention the holocaust with complete amnesia about this event’s most important lessons.

Today, the coverage is similarly conflicted, although leaning in a better direction (perhaps the reaction to yesterday’s stories was not as bad as the editors feared?). The inner pages include stories that are predictably obsessed with the need to keep out and kick out as many refugees as possible, as if it is obvious that Israel is collapsing under the burden of 30,000 people of a population of 7.6 million (not even including occupied Palestinians. Hey, why don’t we send refugees there?). Eilat mayor, Meir Yitzhak Halevy, suggests closing up the city, and if the fence on the Egyptian border makes no progress, perhaps, he proposes, we should just build a fence and gates around Eilat to prevent further “infiltrators” from entering the city.

The front page, on the other hand, tells a different story. It features an op-ed, including an accompanying picture, written by a Sudanese refugee, and titled “Do not be afraid of me”. It is a moving and compelling appeal, and the very decision to publish it, with such emphasis, is commendable.

However, it is the immediately succeeding pages where the most important story unfolds. First, there is a short article comparing claims by the police that crime in the asylum seekers population is increasing, with an analysis by the Knesset Research Center, based on police data, showing that crime rates are actually substantially lower than among the general population.

The immediately adjacent person-on-the-street interviews confirm the impression that fear of asylum seekers is not connected to any actual crimes, but to blatant xenophobia. The following are some choice quotes from Israel 2010 (good thing this year is ending). All the emphases are mine.

Ana, a 13 year old from the southern town of Arad:

I am afraid of them. I heard they tried to rob someone and ended up beating him to death. Who knows what they can do?They should be expelled from the town.

A cop in Ashdod (where five refugees just barely escaped with their lives after an arson attack):

There are no unusual cases of violence or vandalism, but our feeling is that everything is terribly explosive here.

Moshe, Ashdod, says the neighborhood kids no longer come out of their homes in the evenings:

Now their parents won’t let them anymore… Suddenly there are hundreds of foreigners here. It is true they do not hurt anyone and are overall good people, but it is still unpleasant.

A Tel Aviv resident tells the story of a Jewish father to a baby:

After five or six times that they sat in front of his house and made noise, and he called the police and went out and asked them to be quiet – he became desperate. One night he [the Israeli] went out with a springboard and just beat the crap out of them [the asylum seekers]. It is a miracle none of them [the asylum seekers] drew a knife or a bottle and killed him [the Israeli].

Are we not all truly grateful no harm befell the stick-wielding maniac violently assaulting people because they make noise?

Now, you tell me, who is dangerous and who should be afraid?

Read more on racism and intolerance in Israel from +972:

Netanyahu warns against out of control racism in Israel, by Joseph Dana

How the mayor (of a Nazareth suburb) stole Christmas, by Yuval Ben-Ami

We came to protest racism & wound up keeping a city Jewish, by Yuval Ben-Ami

Israeli MKs impotent in the face of racism, by Mairav Zonszein  

Fear and loathing in Israel 2010, by Ami Kaufman