Has Israel Become the Arizona of the Middle East?

African Immigrants in Israel.

Since 2005 approximately 60,000 undocumented Africans have crossed into Israel from Egypt hoping to escape war, poverty, and political persecution. 

While Libya once provided African refugees with an alternative migrant route to Europe, the aftermath Muammar Gaddafi’s regime collapse closed the European pathway sending an influx of mainly South Sudanese and Eritreans into the Jewish state.

Whispers of “Blacks out” that began in late 2011 grew to chants of protests in early 2012 that now embody deportation orders, immigration raids, and a proposed fence along the Israeli and Egyptian border.

Blamed for the increase of crime and perceived as sexual assailants, rising tensions in major cities Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have led to violent anti-immigrant demonstrations, acts of vandalism towards African-run businesses, and arson attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing in accord with the anti-African sentiments of his fellow right wing constituents, publicly denounced undocumented migrants as “infiltrators ” calling for the swift deportation of 25,000.

In a move that rivals Arizona’s SB1070, last week, an Israeli court ruled to expel 1,500 South Sudanese under the premise they are no longer at risk in their homeland.

The court’s ruling accompanies a series of raids in the southern city of Eilat and parts of central Israel.  Averaging arrests of one hundred suspected undocumented Africans since the sweeps began, government and immigration officials are simultaneously pushing for penalties against Israelis who employ African workers even though contractors heavily rely on their cheap labor.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai claims the raids and forced deportations are only the beginning.  As he described in Israel HaYom’s publication, the Israeli state is only permitted to expel “infiltrators” originating from South Sudan and Ivory Coast now but its next phase is to mark immigrants from Eritrea and Sudan for deportation.

Yishai, who has persistently called for the expulsion of non-Jewish migrants, stated that allowing African immigrants to remain in Israel would threaten the “the end of the Zionist dream” that created Israel — a nation of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Despite warnings from the international activist community that Sudan and South Sudan remain on the brink of war and though Eritrea is widely viewed as a dictatorship, African Israeli immigrants’ refugee status has been overlooked and denied.

For Ethiopian Jews, who sought refuge in Sudan before receiving asylum and eventual citizenship in Israel during the 1980s, the treatment of African immigrants by the Israeli state represents a bitter irony.

“It should not just be the Ethiopian Jews who remember what happened to us in Sudan nearly 30 years ago – this whole country was created because we were all once refugees. We should all be thinking about what happened to those Jews who did not find shelter in other countries,” Ziva Mekonen-Degu, executive director of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, told The Jerusalem Post.

With the United Nations High Commission on Refugees’ (UNHCR) international celebration of World Refugee Day fast approaching on June 20, 2012, thousands of African refugees in Israel hope for change and await UNHCR and the world’s intervention on their behalf.

Nonetheless, Israel’s rocky relationship with the United Nations and frequent disputes over Palestine, recently punctuated by the suspension of ties with the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, could complicate UN’s effectiveness in pleading the cause for African immigrants leaving them as collateral damage in the world’s longest running conflict.

 Jamila Aisha Brown is a freelance writer, political commentator, and social entrepreneur.  Her entrepreneurship, HUE, provides consulting solutions for development projects throughout the African diaspora.  You can follow her on Twitter and engage with HUE, LLC.