25 December 2017

The Israeli Labour Party Attacks Netanyahu for being too soft on African Refugees

The Jewish Labour Movement’s ‘sister party’ supports the physical expulsion of refugees from Israel to Eritrea

Demonstration of Eritrean Refugees Outside the Eritrean Embassy in Tel Aviv
For those who are not aware, after Palestine had been ethnically cleansed of Palestinians in 1947-8, those who tried to return to their lands were called ‘infiltrators’ and were shot on sight.  They were not wanted because Israel, being a Jewish state, could not allow any more non-Jews to live in the State. On the contrary, throughout the 1950’s thousands of Palestinians and Bedouin were deported.
The Jewish Labour Movement, which is affiliated as a ‘socialist society’ to the Labour Party describes itself as the ‘sister’ party of the Israeli Labour Party. 

In an article The ethnic cleansing of Africans in Israel, David Sheen wrote that ‘Another one of the ways that Israeli society becomes increasingly racist is when centrist parties like Labor adopt right-wing rhetoric in order to chase after right-wing votes.’   I might take issue with David Sheen over whether or not the Israeli Labour Party is centrist but essentially he is correct.  The Israeli Labour Party’s position over the pogroms in South Tel Aviv and the virulent racism directed against Israel’s African refugees, is no different to that of Likud.

As Sheen noted,  in its attempt to win votes from Likud In recent years, Labor has not played the foil to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but instead acceded to almost all of his hawkish proposals. Instead of standing firm against Israel’s lurch to the right, Labor has attempted to ply votes away from Likud with right-wing proposals.'

That tendency has increased ever since Isaac Herzog was elected to lead the party in November 2013. It has been especially evident in Herzog’s support for Netanyahu’s military campaigns in Gaza and the West Bank, but also in his support for expelling Africans from Israel.

It was not always so. When the Knesset first voted to amend the country’s “anti-infiltration” law in January 2012 to sanction the roundup, detention and expulsion of African refugees, Herzog opposed the measure.

When the Knesset voted to amend the law a second time in December 2013, Herzog didn’t show up for the vote. And by the time the Knesset voted to toughen it a third time in December 2014, he voted in favor of the amendment, along with several other Labor lawmakers.

In May 2012, Herzog wrote an opinion piece, challenging arguments by human rights groups that Eritreans in Israel deserved protection as refugees.

In March 2015, Herzog repeated this refrain in an attempt to peel anti-African votes away from Netanyahu on the eve of the Israeli national elections, saying, “We need to negotiate with Eritrea on the return of the Eritreans back to Eritrea.”
The Jewish Labour Movement describes the Israeli Labor Party as its 'sister' party

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explained how nearly 37,000 Eritreans applied for asylum in 38 European countries over the first 10 months of last year, compared with about 13,000 in the same period in 2013. It puts the total Eritrean refugee population at more than 321,000.

The reasons for the exodus are not hard to fathom: last month, a UN inquiry accused the government of President Isaias Afewerki – who has ruled the east African country since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 – of operating a system of “ruthless repression” and “pervasive state control”.
The chair of the inquiry, Mike Smith, noted a culture of “extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances and incommunicado detentions”, all aimed at silencing critics of the regime.
Human Rights Watch tells of how, after ‘25 years of rule by unelected President Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s citizens remain subjects of one of the world’s most oppressive governments.’

‘In May 2016, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established by the Human Rights Council in its final report said it found reasonable grounds to believe the government has committed numerous crimes against humanity. The government’s “totalitarian practices” and disrespect for the rule of law manifested “wholesale disregard for the liberty” of Eritrea’s citizens, the CoI concluded.’

This is the state that the Israeli Labour Party wishes to return refugees in Israel to.  What is worse is that the British Labour Party allows the ILP’s overseas wing, the Jewish Labour Movement, as an affiliate.

This year, Labor led a successful effort to abolish the Knesset’s committee on foreign workers, one of the few forums in which the concerns of refugees could receive a hearing in parliament.

In September 2015, quite unbelievably the Israeli Labour Party publicly complained that Netanyahu’s government has not done nearly enough to expel Africans from the country. In a public statement, Herzog’s Labor Party wholeheartedly adopted the far-right’s propaganda points, insisting without any basis that most refugees in Israel have no valid claim to refugee status.

The crisis of the refugees from Syria is not similar to the issue of the infiltrators from Africa who are mostly migrant workers,” the statement read. “If only Bibi’s government had created immigration laws, it would be possible to send back to their country those who are in Israel for their welfare and for work. But the Likud government is only good at talking, and it is responsible for the troubles of the residents of south Tel Aviv.”

Of course the opposite is true.  It is Likud MKs like Miri Regev who have led the racist agitation against the African refugees of South Tel Aviv.  Regev herself notoriously called the African refugees a ‘cancer’ and then when criticized, apologized to cancer victims for comparing them to refugees.

The Israeli Labour Party subscribes wholeheartedly to the idea that non-Jewish refugees threaten the Jewish nature of the Israeli state.  This is another example of how a ‘Jewish’ state cannot be other than a racist state.

Tony Greenstein
Avi Gabbay, the Israeli Labor Party's racist new leader

Avi Gabbay
What has become of you? Are you the Zionist Union or the expelling union? Have you gone mad? In your tactics for wooing votes, you’ve abandoned your fundamental values and ability to tell right from wrong.”

Tamar Zandberg, a lawmaker from the leftist Meretz Party, shouted that at the left-bloc Zionist Union members who yesterday backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s draconian legislation to forcibly deport the remaining roughly 40,000 African asylum seekers to a third country – Rwanda. 
Zandberg’s party leader Zehava Gal-On, added that the Zionist Union leader, Avi Gabbay, has “forgotten what it means to be human” – playing a bitter pun on the Gabbay’s recent echoing of Netanyahu, where he said that “the left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish.” 

Prime Minister Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that it is time to “increase the pace of deporting African migrants”, as the Jerusalem Post reported, introducing a bill which passed 53-10 on Monday – much thanks to Gabbay’s support of a policy that is contrary to Labor’s former position.  

Jerusalem Post Gil Hoffman yesterday summarized Gabbay’s many shifts rightwards since his being elected chair of Labor this summer:

Gabbay said recently that there would be no need to evacuate settlements in a peace deal, that he would not sit in a coalition with the Joint (Arab) list, that he was not sure if there was a partner on the Palestinian side, that “the Left forgot what it means to be Jewish”, and that “the whole land of Israel is ours, because it was promised to our patriarch Abraham by God”.
Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, from her Twitter feed.
Indeed, with an opposition like this, who needs Netanyahu? As Meretz leader Gal-On put it, Gabbay was moving so far right, that he could even “outflank Bayit Yehudi [Jewish Home] leader Naftali Bennett”.

Netanyahu’s legislative move comes after a Supreme Court ruling two months ago that limited the state’s practice to coerce refugees to accept being deported to a third country, through indefinite imprisonment. At that point Netanyahu, together with Culture Minister Miri Regev (who has earlier called African refugees “a cancer in our body”), went on a major incitement tour against African refugees in southern Tel Aviv, saying that “We are here on a mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents”. 

Netanyahu was making clear that he will not be deterred by the court ‘limitation’:

“We’ll have to enact new laws that will enable us … to send the illegal infiltrators out of our country”, he said.

As the Times of Israel rightly noted at the time, “expulsion to a third country is largely unprecedented in the Western world. Italy and Australia signed similar agreements with third-party countries — Italy with Libya, and Australia with Malaysia — but both proposals were shot down by local courts. In both cases, courts ruled the bills inconsistent with international law and the 1951 UN convention on refugees — to which Israel is also a party.”

But the court did, in fact, not rule against Israel’s practice of deportation to a third country – which is now known to be Rwanda. It merely limited the state’s practice of indefinite detention aimed at putting pressure on refugees to agree to be deported. It limited the imprisonment period to 60 days. In other words, refugees who seek to hold on to their human rights could still be imprisoned for it, but ‘only’ for 60 days.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was clear at the time about the necessity of this coercive measure, in her statement condemning the Supreme Court decision:

“The High Court removed from the state the ability to pressure the illegal infiltrators,” she said. “It turned the [migrant’s] lack of cooperation into a reward. We will fight this until we achieve the necessary results,” she said.

So Israel is now working on moves that would simply legalize what the court has struck down, and let’s see how far it goes before it’s challenged. As Ilan Lior reported in Haaretz on Friday, “The border authority will formally announce within a few weeks a new policy, under which asylum seekers will have to return to their countries of origin, agree to be sent to Rwanda or be jailed indefinitely in Israel.”  

Gabbay’s recent push to support Netanyahu’s bill has divided the Labor leaders, and even Shelly Yachimovitch of Labor– the one who demanded immediate pardon for medic-killer Elor Azarya– said that it’s “morally impossible to support this.” 

Labor lawmaker Zouheir Bahloul said, “I don’t understand how the party can support such an immoral move by the right, which seeks to throw refugees to hell.” He added: “Angela Merkel was willing to take the political risk until Election Day and take her moral stance of accepting thousands of refugees, and we hesitate and squirm here. Israel can handle a few tens of thousands of refugees and spread them across the country.”

In the end, most of the Zionist Union MKs who are against refugee rights (and that’s the plurality of the 22 Zionist Union members) were absent from the Knesset vote. But the measure still passed, as mentioned, 53-10.

With all the dissent, let’s look at what the leaders of the Israeli left say in the end:

Gabbay’s predecessor Isaac Herzog (still leader of Zionist Union in Knesset as Gabbay isn’t MK), said that “The infiltrators took Israeli Arab jobs.” Wow. The ‘infiltrators’. Netanyahu uses the same term. And is Herzog’s concern now really about ‘Arabs’ – the one who warned the Israeli center-left not to be seen to be ‘Arab lovers’?

Think about it – “Arab jobs”. Does anyone in Israel even notice the vile, blatant, racism here?
And Labor’s Merav Michaeli, (who recently said that “a lot of the BDS movement is good old anti-Semitism”), backed Herzog’s line, just a touch more “liberally”, without the ‘Arabs’ and substituting “infiltrators” with “migrants”:

“Residents have been left at home with no work, because of the migrants”, she said. “There are MK’s in the opposition who cannot look in[to] the eyes of residents who are screaming for us to save them”, she added.

Gosh, what empathy. The Israeli residents are screaming to be saved. Nonetheless, the cries of the refugees, who at best are called “migrants” and commonly regarded as “infiltrators”, even by the left, appear inaudible.

Gabbay is no doubt wooing votes from the right, and he said behind closed doors yesterday that “this is not an issue of right or left”. Already assuming his future constituency, he said that “we would pay a price for arguing with the public”.

So whilst not wanting to argue with “the public”, Gabbay apparently didn’t mind arguing with his own party leadership to support Netanyahu’s bill.

The Israeli Labor is further shedding masks. But let us not forget, that this is also the movement whose leaders contemplated genocide in Gaza in 1967, as newly declassified documents show. This is the same political movement that was responsible for the major ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, subsequent major ethnic cleansings in 1967 and on, and the settlement project since 1967.

The movement that has so arduously created such a great Palestinian refugee crisis for the sake of the Jewish State– what is the meaning to Labor of another 40,000 African refugees after all?   

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