FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Asylum Seekers, Refugees and “the Loss of Israel”

by NICOLA PERUGINI and NEVE GORDON

Jerusalem.

On January 22, protests in solidarity with African asylum seekers were held in front of several Israeli embassies all over the world. By this time most media outlets both in Israel and around the world had lost their interest in their plight, even though the crux of the matter, the twisted logic informing Israeli policies towards the asylum seekers, had not been adequately exposed.

Let us go back to the beginning of the recent events. During the protests which took place at the beginning of 2014, tens of thousands of African asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, filled Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, sending a clear message to the Israeli government: “Yes to freedom, no to jail”. “We,” they went on to claim, “are refugees, not infiltrators”.

The massive rally was propelled by an amendment to Israel’s Prevention of Infiltration Law, which allows the state to “detain migrants who enter the country illegally for up to a year without trial, and to hold those already in Israel in an open detention facility indefinitely”. The Eritreans and Sudanese occupied public spaces and protested in front of the UNHCR and foreign embassies (the US Embassy was shut down) against Israel’s treatment of asylum seekers, which includes denial of visas, denial of proper asylum procedures, arbitrary detentions and deportations.

The impressive mobilization of asylum seekers—the first in Israel’s history—is the result of these discriminatory state-policies, which have already been condemned by major international human rights NGOs and the UN, as well as a response to a more general incitement against migrants. Suffice it to mention some key-statements made by senior government officials on the “infiltrator issue” (the infamous categorization used by the government to deal with asylum seekers) in order to highlight the pervasive atmosphere of intolerance.

Former Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai exclaimed, for example, that “those who want to work to ensure a Jewish and Zionist state for our children should act. We will make the lives of infiltrators bitter until they leave.”

“These are not refugees,” averred Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu following the January 5 protests, “but people, who are breaking the law and whom we will deal with to the fullest extent of the law”.

This kind of rhetoric has characterized the mainstream Israeli discourse on asylum seekers in recent years.  Thus, it was not particularly surprising that in the days following the massive rally in Tel Aviv, thinly veiled racist op-eds appeared in major Israeli newspapers like Yisrael Hayom, Yedioth Aharonot and The Jerusalem Post.

One editorial argued that “Israel, created to be the only state in the world where the Jewish people can exercise self-determination, will never solve the socioeconomic ills of Africa. It does, however, risk losing its strong Jewish majority if it continues to absorb thousands of African migrants”. Another article maintained that: “Since its foundation, Israel has been struggling for its survival against hundreds of millions of its neighbors-enemies and their supporters around the world; it cannot take in tens of thousands – and in the future even hundreds of thousands – of infiltrators. Every sensible person understands that this is not a problem of racism but of existence.”

The Prevention of Infiltration Law, as well as the statements of high-ranking government officials and the editorials, all expose a central feature about Israel, revealing, as it were, something profoundly disturbing about the nature of the state.

At least in the eyes of the member states comprising the United Nations in the late 1940s, Israel was created as a human rights reparation for the crimes of genocide committed against Jews in Europe. Indeed, the state that was established as a homeland for surviving Jewish refugees was constructed as an entity whose raison d’etre was and, as the quotes above show, continues to be the preservation of ethnic purity. The tragic irony is that this kind of purity is not dissimilar to the purity informing the logic of the nation-states that perpetrated the violence of World War II.

In other words, the state which denies the rights of people in search of both refuge (Africans) and return from refuge (Palestinians), is reproducing itself in the image of those nation-states which have constituted themselves in a framework of ethnic pureness. While the experiences of asylum seekers and dispossessed Palestinians are different, and while it would be a grave mistake to compare Israel with perpetrators of genocide, there is still a differing common-ness which unveils how, in Israel, preserving the existence of the state dovetails with racist intolerance.

Nicola Perugini is Assistant Professor and Head of the Human Rights and International Law Program at the Al Quds Bard Honors College (Jerusalem). You can follow him @PeruginiNic

Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation and can be reached through his website.

Nicola Perugini is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Italian Studies and Middle East Studies at Brown University and the author of The Human Right to Dominate (with Neve Gordon, Oxford University Press 2015). You can follow him @PeruginiNic Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation as well as The Human Right to Dominate (with Nicola Perugini, Oxford University Press 2015). You can follow him @nevegordon

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail