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Issues of the Day Responding to Anti-Foreigner Violence

Today's report in Haaretz reports Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman's condemnation of the recent wave of violence against African migrants in Israel. His statement is most welcomed. This is particularly the case against the backdrop of incendiary comments made recently by Interior Minister Eli Ishai, Knesset Members Miri Regev (Likud) and Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) and the incitement undertaken by right-wing activists.

Declaring that "the Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemns the arson of an apartment of African migrants which took place last night in Jerusalem. There is no justification to such a heinous crime that puts people's lives in harm's way," the ministry's press release was a response to the firebombing in Jerusalem on Sunday night of an apartment in which Eritrean refugees reside. Several of the residents were injured in the blaze, which investigators attribute to anti-foreigner agitators.

The latest attack follows a near riot that took place in southern Tel Aviv in late May following a number of serious crimes allegedly committed by migrants.


Undoubtedly, the concentration of refugees and asylum seekers in southern Tel Aviv and other distressed areas in Israel is disruptive to the local community. Equally certain is that the government's policy of not allowing these people to work and rehabilitate themselves as part of an orderly process aimed at their eventual repatriation adds enormously to the burden on the host communities: Denying the refugees the possibility of earning their livelihood, which is the policy promoted by Interior Minister Ishai, inevitably breeds crime and conflict.  


The foreign ministry's statement reads "Law and ethics prohibit any injury to the other, the guest and the foreigner. Jewish history compels us to take exceptional caution in these matters." This is a progressive statement of a kind not generally associated with Foreign Minister Lieberman. The statement also implies that negotiations are underway with the governments of the countries from which the migrants originate in an attempt to find solutions to their plight.


As I have stated previously here and elsewhere, restoring the Israel's once estimable international cooperation program -- a jewel in the crown of Israel's foreign relations during the first five decades of independence  -- should become a priority. In this past, such cooperation assistance not only improved the country's influence in Africa, Asia and Latin America, it has also proven of enduring importance as a platform for trade and other bilateral relations, especially in times when official contacts were fractured for political reasons.


Repatriating the asylum seekers when they can safely return to their own countries is of interest to both Israel, which cannot absorb swelling waves of refugees, and to the societies from which they come. By providing training and other international assistance aimed at socioeconomic change in these distressed countries, Israel can help create conditions that would obviate the refugee problem at its roots. While such aid is of limited utility in stemming current guest/host friction, it is ultimately the best course for preventing the problem in the long run.


One hopes that Foreign Minster Lieberman will consider the logic of increasing Israel's international cooperation with Africa, particularly at this time of rancor. It is both in Israel's strategic interest and a logical derivative of Jewish ethical teachings.  

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved