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Tel Aviv 2012–Berlin 1938 – OpEd

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Israel has moved one step closer to Nazi Germany circa 1938.  In Berlin, Nazis walked the streets terrorizing Jews, smashing windows, burning books and synagogues.  Today, in Tel Aviv’s poor Hatikva neighborhood, the cream of Israel’s political Übermenschen, Kahanists Michael Ben Ari, Itamar Ben Gvir and Baruch Marzel terrorized foreign workerswho live there with mass violence and nothing less than a pogrom:

Hundreds of demonstrators assembled in…Hatikva…alling for the ousting of African migrant workers. Some people attacked people attacked Africans that passed by. Others smashed the windows of a grocery store serving the migrant worker community and looted it.

Another group of demonstrators stopped a shuttle taxi and searched for migrant workers among the passengers, while banging on the windows.

The crowd cried “The people want the Sudanese deported” and “infiltrators get out of our home.” Miri Regev, a Likud Knesset Member said that “the Sudanese were a cancer in our body.” 17 protesters were arrested.

The protesters expressed their dismay with the government’s dealings with the “problem” of asylum seekers, especially with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some people carried signs in support of Interior Minister Eli Yishai who called for the expulsion of the asylum seekers earlier this week.

The march was organized by Knesset member Michael Ben Ari of the National Union party, along with far-right activists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, who runs a neighborhood security group in south Tel Aviv.

…One speaker…called for the establishment of a political party that will champion the expulsion of the migrants. “It’s not racism,” he insisted.

My friend, Israeli journalist, Haggai Matar was also assaulted during the festivities.  It shook him up considerably and he’s still getting his bearings.  Meanwhile, he’s written this blog post (Hebrew): On the Way to a Lynching.

Who are these refugees?  They’re from South Sudan, a nation still wracked by civil war and rapidly descending into chaos foisted upon it by the central Sudanese government.  This is the same government responsible for the genocide in Darfur.  Refugees, genocide, ethnic hatred: does it sound familiar?

Another element of this pogrom that is critical to grasp is that while it was initiated by the extreme Judeo-Nazi right wing, MKs from the governing Likud party (Danon, Regev, Tirosh and Levin) stepped in and took credit publicly for the event.  That’s the way creeping fascism works.  First the extreme stakes its claim within political discourse.  Then, the more mainstream parties step in to co-opt the radical right.  By then, the extreme becomes subsumed into the mainstream and transforms it into something truly hateful and ugly (roughly the way the Tea Party functions in American political discourse, though it hasn’t sponsored any pogroms yet).  Tonight, Tel Aviv, and by extension Israel, has become something truly hateful and ugly.

If you look at the statements of the “responsible” leaders of the country, you see them hopping on the bandwagon.  The Interior Minister Eli Yishai inveighs against the dirty Africans.  The Attorney General says he’s ready to provide legal support for mass deportations.  The prime minister, never one to harbor any sympathy for the downtrodden, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, will sacrifice these poor souls in half a heartbeat in return for political advantage.

This, of course is a recapitulation of the far-right, neo-Nazi message of many European parties like the English Defense League, Marie Le Pen’s National Front, etc.  It echoes Anders Breivik’s anti-immigrant manifesto penned before he murdered 77 Norwegian liberal youth.  I suppose it’s not surprising that there would be such a poisonous political movement developing inside Israel, which, after all, is not immune to the same venom infecting the European and American body politic.  But what IS surprising is how closely this echoes the historic tragedy of the Holocaust as it first manifested itself in 1930s Germany.  We too had our Jewish refugees who were scorned when they sought refuge on these shores.  Jewish history is replete with examples of similar persecution of Jews including the Crusades, the Inquisition, and various other expulsions.

I’m not predicting genocide in Israel against foreign workers.  But given Jewish history of the last century, you’d think that Jews, including Israelis would be more sensitive to repeating the horrors perpetrated on our ancestors then.

To be fair, there have been equally noxious manifestations of hate including mass expulsions from Sierra Leone and other places.  But we’ve suffered this fate ourselves.  To perpetrate it against the weak and vulnerable of Tel Aviv is a true schandeh.  It is less than reassuring that Israel plans a similar mass expulsion of its own immigrants to soothe the raging beast of Israeli xenophobia.

In the shadows of the Occupation and Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians, foreign workers are the Palestinians.  Like Palestinians, they have no legal status within Israel.  This renders them invisible, powerless and at the mercy of whoever wishes to exploit them.  The only difference between the two groups is that the foreign workers are within Israel’s body politic while Israel has succeeded in excluding Palestinians (to its mind) from the body politic.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam



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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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