On Wednesday night, years of neglect reached a boiling point.
The Israeli government's failure to implement a coherent policy to handle the stream of refugees reaching Israel from Sudan and Eritrea resulted in thousands of refugees clustering in the poorest neighborhoods of Israel's cities. There, tensions grew between the long-time residents -- themselves poor and neglected -- and the refugees.
Rather than addressing the problems, some Israeli politicians stoked the tensions. They pitted the needs of the refugees -- some of whom came to Israel to escape unspeakable horrors in their homelands -- against the needs of the urban poor, using racist and xenophobic language.
On Wednesday night, things got out of hand. Residents of south Tel Aviv held a demonstration to voice their frustrations. Politicians incited the crowd. A mob spun off, smashing windows and attacking bystanders.
In the wake of these events, many leaders in Israel, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, have condemned the demagoguery, the incitement, and the violence. That's a start, but we need to make sure that the underlying problems get addressed.
NIF is already mobilizing. We’re not going to let extremists dominate Israel:
1). We're making the case that meeting the needs of refugees need not come at the expense of Israel's poor. That's a false choice. A demonstration we helped organize today in Jerusalem protested both the government's abandonment of the urban poor and the incitement against refugees that we'd witnessed.
2). We are stepping up our community organizing efforts in south Tel Aviv, making sure that the resident's needs are really heard at City Hall and at the national level. And we are fostering dialogue between the veteran residents and the refugees.
3). We are providing financial resources to the front-line organizations working with African refugees. And we’re offering expertise and training to help the refugees speak for themselves to the media, to the politicians, to all of Israel.
I need your help to continue this work. And even to step it up.
At the demonstration in Jerusalem today, we heard from the director of the African Refugee Development Center -- an organization that we’ve been supporting for years. He told us that fear and confusion is plaguing the refugees' communities and that there is an urgent need for security and community organizing work.
He wasn't shy. He said that they will soon ask us for emergency funding to pay for:
1). Security at the women's hostel they run.
2). Community organizing work vis-a-vis the different refugee communities they serve.
And certainly, we'll be hearing from other groups that look out for the needs of the urban poor and of the refugees.
NIF keeps reserves on hand to address these types of emergencies, but our resources are going to be stretched by the dictates of this moment.
Help meet this urgent need. Any amount you can provide at this moment will make a huge difference.
Israel needs a sensible immigration policy that respects the human rights treaties it has signed and balances the ideal of the Jewish homeland with the Jewish obligation to help the stranger. That's the long-term goal.
But right now, we must act to protect the physical safety of the refugees. We must act to help cooler heads prevail. We must act to help Israeli society live up to the best values of the Jewish tradition.
We'll be in touch,
Rabbi David Rosenn
Chief Operating Officer, NIF
Update on African refugee situation25 May 2012 By Ruby Ong