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

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail