By ROBERT MACKEY
After a rally demanding the immediate expulsion of migrants seeking asylum in Israel led to a spate of attacks on Africans in Tel Aviv late Wednesday, political leaders condemned the violence but vowed to crack down on illegal immigration.
As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, 17 people were detained after the protest for “attacking African passers-by and journalists, breaking into and looting shops associated with the African migrant community and shattering car windshields.”
Video posted on Facebook by an Israeli blogger who witnessed some of the violence showed a mob attacking a car filled with Sudanese migrants and smashing the windows of African businesses in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood.
A reporter for Ynet News, the English-language Web site of the Tel Aviv daily Yedioth Ahronoth, recorded a video interview with the Sudanese driver of the car that was attacked by the mob. More images of the rampage after the protest were posted on Flickr by Activestills, an Israeli collective of photographers who see their work as “a vehicle for social change.”
Speaking in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to address the concerns of the protesters, “whose pain I understand,” but stressed that there was “no place for either the expressions or the actions that we witnessed last night.” He also vowed to complete construction of a fence along Israel’s border with Egypt within months and begin deporting “infiltrators.”
Three days before the riot, Mr. Netanyahu said that the number of illegal immigrants in Israel was approaching 60,000 and “could easily grow to 600,000″ without decisive action. Such a large number of foreigners, he warned, “would inundate the state and, to a considerable degree, cancel out its image as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Yair Lapid, a former television journalist and emerging opposition leader, connected the attacks on the African community to the race riots against Jews in Europe in earlier ages in a statement posted on Facebook. According to a translation of his statement by Ynet News, Mr. Lapid expressed his support for “the arrest and deportation of infiltrators,” and the completion of the fence, but blamed three members of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, for provoking the violence with angry speeches at the rally.
“When I see a pogrom led by inciters like” the Knesset members Danny Danon, Miri Regev and Michael Ben-Ari, Mr. Lapid wrote, “I wonder how they have the nerve to call themselves Jews.”
“They don’t understand the meaning of Jewish morals or collective Jewish memory, nor do they understand the meaning of Jewish existence,” he wrote.
In her speech to the rally, Ms. Regev, a member of Parliament for Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said, “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body.” She also attacked Israeli “left-wingers” for petitioning the country’s supreme court to delay the expulsion of migrants.
Two journalists who attended the protest — Haggai Matar, a blogger, and Ilan Lior, a reporter for Haaretz — wrote that they were harassed and threatened by members of the crowd who mistook them for Israeli activists.
In an account published by the Israeli news blog +972, Mr. Matar wrote: It all started with one woman who came at me out of nowhere, and started screaming: “You throw stones at soldiers! Shame on you! Get the hell out of here!” I tried to say that I have never thrown stones at anybody in my life, but she was not exactly in the mood for dialogue. “You lie! I see you every week on television throwing stones at soldiers and calling them Nazis!”
Mr. Lior, in his account, noted that Mr. Ben-Ari had “also pointed a finger of blame at the left-wingers, and ‘tzfonbonim,’ ” using the Hebrew slang for “affluent, stuck-up residents of north Tel Aviv.”
Just moments after Ben-Ari’s speech, I found myself in a surreal situation.
“You’re a left-winger that throws rocks at soldiers at checkpoints,” one protester called at me. “You’re a traitor, we’ll finish you,” threatened another. I tried to explain that I was a journalist, and not a left-wing activist, that I’ve never protested at checkpoints, nor thrown a rock at anyone. I told them that I came to give a voice to the residents’ calls, to their struggles, and to pass the message on to those who make decisions.
No one listened.
As the situation quickly deteriorated, Mr. Lior wrote, police officers encouraged him to run, but hundreds of protesters swarmed after him. Some of them caught up. One grabbed my shirt, and ripped it, while threatening to murder me. For the first time, I saw true hatred in the eyes of another person. The officers pushed me into a patrol car, in an attempt to protect me. The patrol car became the center of the chaos. The masses surrounded it, protesters banged on the doors and windows, rocked the car from side to side. “Traitor,” they yelled.
The attacks after the rally were not the first time that Israelis upset with the presence of African migrants have vented their rage at fellow citizens concerned with the welfare of refugees who might face persecution in countries like Sudan or Eritrea.
Yossi Gurvitz, an activist blogger, reported in a post for +972 illustrated with video that vitriol and racist obscenities were directed at his girlfriend when she heckled Mr. Ben-Ari during a smaller protest on Tuesday.
© 2012 The New York Times Company
See online: African Migrants Attacked in Tel Aviv