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"

Photo: Getty
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Think Charlottesville couldn't happen in the UK? Then look at today's Sun

When columnists call for a solution to “The Muslim Problem” it begins to legitimise the kind of hate boiling over in the US.

The sight of actual, real-life, flag-flying, gun-toting, "blood and soil" chanting Nazis and white supremacists marching through Charlottesville in the US this weekend was chilling, even before one of them drove into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring almost 20 more. 

As is often the way for those in the UK, watching what happens to our English-speaking transatlantic partner prompts the question "could it happen here?".

History suggests it's unlikely. Britain has had its own racist movements – the English Defence League, Britain First, further back the National Front – but most of the population takes pride in the country's history of opposing fascism. Not only is the Second World War seen as our greatest moment, but the Battle of Cable Street, in which thousands of Jews, trade unions and communists fought and won street battles against Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts, is celebrated right across the political spectrum. 

Yes, we have the likes of Thomas Mair, the far-right murderer of MP Jo Cox, but we have no significant, organised groups espousing the kind of white supremacist ideology on display in the US this weekend.

That's what we reassure ourselves with at least. 

Yet in what seems like an inadvertent masterstroke of timing, along comes Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh to remind us how you get from civilised debate to goose-stepping in small, easy steps.

In Monday's Sun, Kavanagh has penned a column mostly about Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit, but with a few paragraphs dedicated to the conviction of a group of mainly British Asian men in Newcastle for running a sexual abuse ring.

There are obviously debates to be had about how this case and other instances of sexual abuse are carried out by groups with shared religious or cultural backgrounds (though maybe let's include the Catholic Church in that debate).

But Kavanagh, of course, went a lot further than that, linking the convictions to Brexit's promise of full control of immigration and asking: "What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?"

This isn't so much a political dog-whistle as a full on Wagner symphony. The Sun has been asked for a comment on whether it was a deliberate attempt to mirror the Nazis' second-favourite euphemism for hating Jews (the first, remember, has already been used by former Sun columnist Katie Hopkins after she'd left for the Mail.) It seems unlikely it was a mistake, given that Kavanagh's terrible views do not detract from his skill with words. 

The other argument (as it was with Hopkins) is that Kavanagh is just voicing his opinion as an independent columnist. That argument is a little difficult to hold up when Kavanagh is the Sun's former political editor, as well as its current assistant editor (he also sits on the board of media regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation). 

But even if you set aside Kavanagh's exalted position at the Sun and take it simply as one columnist saying something objectionable for attention, it's is part of a broader pattern of writing across the tabloid press that seeks to dehumanise minorities, and these days that mostly means Muslims. 

You will course see worse things on social media and the dark corners of the web. There is more explicit enthusiasm for applying Nazi tactics to minority groups in the UK on, for instance, the comments posted to Mail Online.

But while the right-wing tabloid press's statements, hints, and calls for serious debate in the face of oppressive "political correctness" are more subtle, their appearance in the supposedly mainstream media legitimises the most extreme of views. 

And to see how that works you only have to turn back across the Atlantic. 

Donald Trump's rise was backed by a drip drip of subtly-legitimatised hate from the likes of Breitbart and Fox News, augmented by the more crazy fringe of those like Alex Jones at Infowars, who talk of a white culture under threat. And there is a feedback loop running through Trump himself, where his comments and sometimes lack of comments boosts those messages. When he branded both sides in Charlottesville as equally violent, and refused to answer questions about support from white supremacists, it gave succour to the most openly fascist organisations on the internet

The US example shows what years of this process results in. It softens up the public for even more vicious views, and pushes the Overton Window so being a Nazi seems just another viewpoint – one sympathised with by parts of the supposed mainstream and perhaps, even, at least a little, the president himself. 

The US is perhaps a decade or two ahead of us down this path, but in Kavanagh and other writers like him, we have at least the beginnings of the same process. Maybe something like Charlottesville taking place here seems like a distant prospect. But we have plenty of people with huge media platforms doing their best to prepare the ground.