by David Sheen
Comments made by Israel’s top political and religious leaders earlier this month are a dismal reminder of how little black lives matter in the country, and how African refugees remain in mortal danger, whether or not the government’s plan to deport them is temporarily suspended .
On March 17, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef, called black people “monkeys” and the Hebrew equivalent of the N-word in his weekly sermon.
It is highly unlikely that Yosef will face any real repercussions for his racist comments. He was not demoted after saying in a similar sermon exactly two years ago that all non-Jews – Africans, Arabs, or otherwise – could only live in Israel if they agree to serve the country’s Jewish population.
It’s unclear if Yosef’s recent comments were directly connected to the Israeli government’s impending expulsion of approximately 40,000 African refugees, mainly Christians and Muslims from Eritrea and Sudan.
The government has already coerced more than a third of the African refugee community in Israel, over 20,000 souls, to return to Africa. Israeli journalists have revealed in recent months that the government’s promises to secure status for them in Rwanda or Uganda were only a ruse, devised to deport them back into a stateless existence – with their ostensible acquiescence.
To be fair, racist comments from state-paid rabbis aren’t exactly a rarity in Israel. Israel’s other chief rabbi, Yisrael Lau, used the N-word to describe Black athletes on his very first day in office in July 2013.
But another anti-African comment made last week, by Israel’s most powerful politician, was almost certainly timed to coincide with the government’s efforts to ethnically cleanse the country of the refugees.
On March 19, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a public speech that the arrival of non-Jewish African refugees was “much worse ” for Israel than “severe attacks by Sinai terrorists”.
Netanyahu’s comments come as citizens across the country have been publicly expressing reservations to his expulsion plan.
Since the start of the calendar year, Israelis from all walks of life have registered their adamant opposition to the planned deportations, scheduled to begin on April 1.
On Saturday night, a pro-refugee protest in Tel Aviv drew over 20,000 thousand people opposed to the expulsion.
But Netanyahu need not worry about amassing support for the deportation plan. True, a recent poll proved that the majority of the Israelis that live in proximity to the African refugees – in the Greater Tel Aviv area generally, and in the slums of South Tel Aviv specifically -oppose the expulsions . But outside of that liberal bubble, Netanyahu has easily secured support for his plan .
Netanyahu might not be losing sleep over local opposition to the deportations, but he is most certainly concerned by Jewish communities outside of Israel starting to kick up a fuss.
As news of Netanyahu’s cruel decree reaches the mainstream media outside of Israel, American Jewish leaders are unable to ignore the issue any longer.
Even some of the most adamant defenders of the Israeli state and its dispossession of the Palestinian people have spoken out against the plan , calling it racist, and practically pleading with the Israeli government to scrap it.
Some rabbis are vowing to thwart the expulsion plan by hiding African refugees in their homes, evoking the memory of Anne Frank, the iconic chronicler of the horrors of the Holocaust. In Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Frank and her family temporarily avoided being deported to the death camps by hiding with the help of non-Jews.
This week, Israel’s High Court will consider a petition by pro-refugee activists to permanently halt the deportations. So with his plan in possible peril, Netanyahu described the refugees as worse than terrorists, in an obvious attempt to smear them as enemies of the state, in order to justify their impending expulsion.
The last time that Netanyahu associated African refugees with terrorists was at another very critical moment, when the fate of these refugees hung in the balance.
In September 2014, Israel’s High Court deemed Netanyahu’s anti-refugee policies unconstitutional, and ordered the closure of the Holot desert detention centre the government had already rounded thousands of African men into.
Determined to prevent the closure of the camp, a key component of Israeli efforts to pressure refugees to leave the country, Netanyahu’s ministers raced against time to draw up another version of the same racist law that would pass the muster of the High Court.
Shared from Al Jazeera