What is behind the Israeli mistreatment of African migrants?

Disturbing rhetoric on race from Israeli government ministers.

The recent anti-African mob violence in Tel Aviv was, sadly, no surprise. Only a few days previously, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned “illegal infiltrators” could threaten the country’s existence “as a Jewish and democratic state”, with Interior Minister Eli Yishai saying that “the migrants are giving birth to hundreds of thousands, and the Zionist dream is dying”. 
Cabinet ministers talk in terms of “expulsion by consent or without consent” to “preserve the country's Jewish identity”, and of “taking steps to kick out” the “scourge” of “infiltrators”. A prominent Likud parliamentarian and chair of the “Knesset Caucus to Solve the Infiltrator Problem” urged for this “plague” to be removed “without delay and without mercy”.
A disturbing conference held in April in Ramle gives further insight into this mainstream racism, and points to an important connection between the anti-African incitement, and the institutionalised discrimination faced by Palestinians.
At the annual get together, “Israeli politicians and right-wingers – including Knesset Members and rabbis who are paid by the government – gathered to discuss the ‘problem’ of foreigners (read: non-Jews) in Israel”. One analogy is to imagine British MPs and even cabinet members proudly attending – and speaking at – an English Defence League convention. 
Yishai gave an address, and one rabbi told the audience that Israel “is our home and an Arab who wants to express his nationalism has many countries in which to do so”. Perhaps the most extraordinary contribution came from the head of a campaign group "Fence for Life", which emerged as a prominent voice supporting the construction of Israel’s Separation Wall.
Here, Ilan Tsion explicitly makes the case for the Wall on the basis that it can keep out non-Jews, grouping together both Africans and Palestinians as threats to the Jewish character of the state. Instructively, Tsion boasted of his group’s role in lobbying for both the Wall and for a continued ban on Palestinian family reunification. 
This week, Yishai asked rhetorically: “So what, the State of Israel, as the Jewish state, in the name of democracy, in the name of honouring UN resolutions, (should accept) a recipe for suicide?” Likewise, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the separation of Palestinian spouses, the majority opinion stated: “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide”. 
The "demographic threat" discourse is commonplace amongst both the left and right. Netanyahu, as Finance Minister in 2003, described Palestinian citizens as the real “demographic problem”. When Ehud Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, he considered it “a matter of concern when the non-Jewish population rises a lot faster than the Jewish population”.
Worrying about the numbers of Palestinian babies is also a concern for the so-called "liberals" or "peace camp", who echo the logic found in this recent op-ed (titled “Keep our Israel Jewish”) that “[African migrants] should be deported, for the same reason I think we should finalize a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians: Because I want to keep living in a Jewish state”.  
This kind of ideology is inevitable in a country where racial discrimination is part and parcel of core laws and policies, and whose very establishment as a "Jewish majority" state was only possible, as Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe have pointed out, through ethnic cleansing and mass land expropriation. Indeed, the Ramle conference takes place in a town almost entirely emptied of its Palestinian population in 1948.
In 2012, African refugees are attacked in Tel Aviv for "threatening" the Jewish state; in 1948, Israeli forces targeted columns of Palestinian refugees “to speed them on their way”. In today’s Israel, politicians plan fences and detention camps for non-Jewish “infiltrators”; by 1956, as many as 5,000 Palestinians trying to return home had been killed as “infiltrators”.  
This thread running through Israel’s past and present – of expulsions, ethnocratic legislation, and obsessions with birth rates – is the context for the targeting of African refugees and Palestinians, and is one of the reasons why Israel’s advocates in the west are having to work so hard to maintain the myth of Israel’s democracy.
African immigrants in Tel Aviv Photograph: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/GettyImages

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

Emmanuel Macron, looking innocent after having compromised his promise to feminists to name a female PM.
Show Hide image

Macron said he wanted a female Prime Minister, so why did he pick a man?

Macron says he's a feminist. He must do better for women in his cabinet

He repeated it several times on the campaign trail: Emmanuel Macron, France’s newly elected and youngest ever President, is a self-declared feminist. During the months leading to his election on 7 May, Macron was vocal about gender balance within his campaign team and his party’s parliamentary candidates. Crucially, he declared in March that he “wished” his Prime Minister would be a woman.  

But in the week leading to his inauguration last Sunday, of half a dozen names rumoured to be in the running for “Matignon” (the Prime Minister’s residence), only two were women. Then the Elysée palace announced yesterday that Macron had chosen Edouard Philippe, the Republican mayor of the northern city of Le Havre.

“I will choose the most capable, the most competent,” Macron had said at the time he wished it would be “a woman.” Was there no woman Macron thought would be “capable” enough to earn the title of Prime Minister? French presidents have total freedom to name their PM – even, as Macron has done, so called “cohabitations” in which the President and the PM are from different parties.

And it's not just Philippe's gender that suggests an early watering down of Macron's committment to equality, it's the new Prime Minister's voting record. He abstained on the law legalising gay marriage and voted against allowing adoption for gay couples.

Macron successfully campaigned on a “neither left nor right” platform, but he very much needs the votes of the actually right-wing who make up half of the French electorate to win June’s parliamentary elections and rule effectively. Hence the moderate Republican Prime Minister: Edouard Philippe is follower of Alain Juppé, the most liberal candidate who ran (and lost) in the Republican primary. (Juppé himself wasn’t exactly PM material: Macron’s first reform is set to be the “moralisation of politics”, and Juppé was sentenced to two years away from public office for misuse of public money in the early 2000s).

Yet even with the necessity of naming a Republican Prime Minister, the party is not short of experienced women qualified for the job. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a Republican and former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy who ran for mayor of Paris in 2014, was one of the names that circulated last week. She has expressed support for Macron and called on the centre-right to “accept the hand he is offering” to rule France. The centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard, who backed Macron at the beginning of his presidential bid and organised his meeting with Angela Merkel last March, was another.

France has had only one female Prime Minister: Edith Cresson led Francois Mitterrand’s government for just one year, from May 1991 to April 1992. Michèle Alliot-Marie, the first woman to be named Interior Minister in 2007, also became the first female Foreign Affairs Minister in 2010, both during Sarkozy’s mandate. She remains the only woman to have held either position.

Until September at least, Macron will sit alongside Germany’s Angela Merkel, his closest international ally, and will face Theresa May’s in Brexit negotiations. He’s already compromised the ideal he set himself – a female PM. The least he can do, both for his own record and for France’s, would be to ask Edouard Philippe to pick a woman as Foreign Affairs Minister.

0800 7318496