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"

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What does it mean for a leader when their entire country’s music culture rejects them?

The lack of good-quality artists performing at Donald Trump’s inauguration shows how weak his connection is with the country he’s about to govern.

Donald Trump’s inauguration planning has been bumpy. After numerous rejections, X Factor winner Rebecca Ferguson offered to sing, providing she could perform the protest song about lynching, “Strange Fruit”. In the last few days, a Bruce Springsteen Tribute Act has dropped out of the line-up. I hear it’s touch-and-go with the marching band.

The list of singers who have rejected the “opportunity” to play at Trump’s inauguration is extensive. Elton John, Charlotte Church, Céline Dion, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Kiss – so far, but the list continues to rack up. Those who have agreed are hardly household names: the Talladega College marching band, 3 Doors Down, Jackie Evancho (???), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and someone called “DJ Ravidrums”. For context, Barack Obama had Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin.

From a musical perspective, Trump is screwed. While Obama was the subject matter of anthems (“My President” by Young Jeezy/ “Changes” by Common/ “Black President” by Nas), Trump is like an over-keen uni student attempting to organise a club night four days into Freshers’ Week. He’s already printed the goddamn posters, and keeps asking you whether you’ve bought your ticket to “Leeds’ FRE$HEST t e c h n o night – Artists TBC.”

To be fair to Trump, he has inspired some good music: YG’s “FDT” (that’s “Fuck Donald Trump” for all you non-YG fans out there) is a real hit.

Of course, the President-Elect is not the first political figure to have anti-establishment art created about him. Far from it. Punk centred around anti-authoritarianism: fuck Thatcher, fuck the Queen, et al. Public Enemy, Gil Scott-Heron, and Dead Kennedys all created anti-presidential songs during the Seventies and Eighties with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in their crosshairs.

There will always be a counter-cultural movement dissenting from the mainstream, raging against the machine – but what happens when it’s not counter-cultural, but just er, all culture? When even the mediocre Christian rock bands won’t play at your inauguration?

Trump does not worry about the backlash against him, but he should. Good music is born out of communities, which speaks to experiences. From lines like “When a n***a tryna board the plane / And they ask you, ‘What’s your name again?’ / ‘Cause they thinking, ‘Yeah, you’re all the same’” or “America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey,” Trump could do with paying attention. Indeed, W.E.B. Du Bois writes in The Souls of Black Folk, “There is no true American Music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave.” Music has always been a political tool, and we should not underestimate its rhetorical power.

This is why Obama’s musical reach was so important. His appreciation of contemporary music spoke to a political awareness of American culture, one that he wanted to engage with and listen to. The recent Ta-Nehisi Coates piece My President was Black opens with the writer’s first-hand experiences of this – from Obama inviting musicians like Jay Z and Chance the Rapper to the White House, to holding music events.

“The Obamas are fervent and eclectic music fans,” Coates writes. “In the past eight years, they have hosted performances at the White House by everyone from Mavis Staples to Bob Dylan to Tony Bennett to the Blind Boys of Alabama.”

Heck, Obama even released two Spotify playlists.

The implications of Obama’s enthusiasm showed an affinity to the people he represented, an awareness of his times, and built a responsive community: one of artists, rappers and singers who want to celebrate in his existence. Obama’s love of music was a sign of an appreciation of the cultures that were producing it. Like a call and response, Obama spoke to the people, and the people called back.

Politics and music will always be interlinked. This is why people were angry over Kanye’s friendship with Trump – the “abomination of Obama’s nation” ignoring his fans, his community, to associate with a man with such a flagrant disregard for black voters. This is in part why we mourn dead musicians. This is why we sing at rallies and marches. The two are inextricably linked, and it is not wise to underestimate the power of the form.

Trump will, inevitably, brush away the foreboding cultural signifier of a musical community rejecting him like a defensive child who doesn’t care. America is divided and it feels like we’re on the brink of something terrifying. Ignoring the masses of people and their voices will be a big mistake. Are you listening, Mr President?