Workers Vanguard No. 1007
31 August 2012
On Racist Attacks Against African Migrants in Israel
16 June 2012
Dear Workers Vanguard,
I wish to draw the attention of Workers Vanguard and the Partisan Defense Committee to the pogrom against African immigrants, principally from Eritrea and the Sudans, in Israel by racist Zionist mobs and endorsed at the highest levels of the Israeli government by Knesset Members. Ministers and Knesset Members have called these African immigrants “infiltrators” (a term historically first used to describe Palestinians who sought to re-enter Israel after being expelled in 1948) “rapists,” “carriers of AIDS,” and “cancer.”
One does not need to be a revolutionary Marxist to be appalled by this disgusting filth but one does need to be in order to understand that this is not simply the problem of a racist person, party, or even state. It is a symptom of decaying capitalism and the putrescence it conjures up in its death agony: racism, homophobia, fascism—in order to further divide and exploit the working-class and the oppressed and draw attention away from the utterly irrational and outmoded system of capitalism and imperialist domination. If Zionist Israel is more open, more frenzied in their racist ranting and wallowing in chauvinist filth, it is because the Israeli ruling-class knows that they stand on even less firm ground than those of their counterparts elsewhere. As WV wrote decades earlier [in “From the ‘Arab Revolution’ to Pax Americana” (WV No. 317, 12 November 1982)]:
“However, Israel is not a long-established nation-state and the existence of a Hebrew-speaking nation in the Near East has been and remains historically insecure. Despite their presently overwhelming regional military superiority, many Israeli Jews fear that some day they will be obliterated by the multitude of hostile and vengeful Arabs who surround them. Israel is ruled by men who believe that history is not on their side. It is this which gives the Zionist state much of its paranoid destructive frenzy.... No chauvinism is more intense, no bigotry more blinding, than that of an oppressor people whose privileges and very existence are precarious.”
Zionism is caught between the contradiction of wanting a pure Jewish state with 100% Hebrew labor on the one hand, and on the other seeks to bind the Hebrew-speaking workers to the state by using super-exploited and vulnerable immigrant labor to handle the most dangerous and demeaning tasks, giving the illusion that Hebrew-speaking workers stand to benefit by living in a racialist “Jewish state.” It is only by being broken from this deadly illusion can the Hebrew-speaking workers in Israel truly end their exploitation: by overthrowing the capitalist state which exploits and oppressed them and this can only be done by championing the causes of all those targeted by the Zionists and religious fundamentalists: immigrants, Palestinians, women, and homosexuals!
The Hebrew-speaking working-class must be won to the defense of immigrant and Palestinian rights! The immigrant population in Israel—African, Chinese, Thai, Romanian, and Filipinos—is burdened with the worst jobs and lowest pay, and subject to deportation if they even become pregnant! The children of immigrants in Israel have no legal protection and only international outcry has prevented their wholesale deportation. Yet they carry with them the traditions of labor struggles in their countries, which the official “Labor” Zionist parties and the Histadrut [labor federation] have tried to erase from the consciousness of the Hebrew-speaking working-class.
As revolutionary Trotskyists we must say: Israeli workers must defend African immigrants, Arab minorities! For workers defense guards to protect immigrant dwellings! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Stop the deportations! Down with Zionist chauvinism!
As longtime subscriber Jonah points out, black African immigrants in Israel are being subjected to a wave of race terror, including almost daily beatings and stabbings, which go largely unreported because the victims are afraid to go to the police. On May 23, around 1,000 bigots demonstrated in Tel Aviv against African migrants, attacking a car filled with dark-skinned people and looting shops serving African migrants. That explosion of racist violence came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu railed that “infiltrators” were threatening “our national identity.” The interior minister howled: “This country belongs to us, to the white man.” There have also been a series of firebombings of the homes of African migrants.
To even cross into Israel, African migrants face a bloody trek across Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where they are routinely shot down by Egyptian forces and subjected to extortion, kidnappings, beatings, rape and murder by Egyptian traffickers. Between 2007 and 2009, Egyptian border police killed at least 50 migrants. Such killings have continued since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Now Israel is sending troops across the border to intercept African migrants and hand them over to Egyptian authorities.
In his letter, Jonah raises the call for “full citizenship rights for all immigrants” in Israel. Indeed, migrants in Israel should have every right they can get their hands on. However, the question of citizenship rights for immigrants in Israel is bound up with the suppression of the national rights of the Palestinian people, a defining axis on which the Zionist state turns.
What does it mean to be a “citizen” of Israel? While the “Jewish state” proclaims itself the only “democracy” in the Near East, it accords far greater citizenship rights within the law to Israeli Jews than to Israeli Arabs, who additionally suffer rampant discrimination in housing, jobs, social services and virtually all aspects of life. At the same time, Sephardic Jews (i.e., those originally from Arab countries) and even more so Ethiopian Jews face deep-seated bigotry and chauvinism within the Zionist state. As for the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, they are routinely denied entry into Israel, to say nothing of residency or citizenship rights, even if married to an Israeli citizen (who in most such cases is Arab). In contrast, a Jewish person from, say, Brooklyn can immigrate to Israel, where he will be accorded “full citizenship rights,” including the “right” to live on land in the West Bank or East Jerusalem that was confiscated from the Palestinians.
The very fact that in Israel there are over 300,000 migrant laborers, the vast majority deemed “illegal,” is intimately tied to the oppression of the Palestinians. Non-Jewish migration to Israel began in earnest after the first Intifada (1987-93) and the signing of the 1993 Oslo “peace” accords. Israeli policy was consciously directed at replacing the labor of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, overwhelmingly employed in low-wage menial and unskilled work, with that of foreign (i.e., non-Palestinian) migrants, who themselves are denied any and all rights. As a result, the Israeli bourgeoisie has all but excluded these Palestinians from the country’s economy. At first, migrant laborers mainly came from East Europe and Asia. Since the mid 2000s, some 60,000 Africans fleeing conditions in Sudan, Eritrea and other sub-Saharan countries have arrived in Israel, where large numbers seek asylum.
When the international financial crisis hit and Israel’s economy turned sour, migrants became an easy scapegoat for the Israeli bourgeoisie. And in typical Zionist-racist fashion Africans are the first targeted. In 2009, the government set up a new immigration police force known as the Oz unit, specifically to round up and deport the migrants. Over the past year, Israel sped up construction of both a border fence with Egypt and a massive new detention center in the Negev desert. In January, Israel’s Knesset (parliament) amended the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law to allow authorities to jail migrants for three years, and in some cases indefinitely.
That law was initially aimed at Palestinian militants seeking to re-enter Israel after the Zionist-orchestrated mass expulsions of 1947-48. It is one example of how the measures directed against African refugees were prepared by decades of repression of the Palestinian people. Deprived of work and under constant threat of Israeli missile strikes, Palestinians in Gaza are imprisoned behind an electrified fence and subject to a starvation blockade in the West Bank; they are trapped by a Kafkaesque array of checkpoints and continually robbed of their land by settlers. According to the UN, there are over five million Palestinian refugees, the survivors and descendants of those driven out of their homes by successive Israeli wars (especially in 1948 and 1967).
The right of these refugees and their descendants to return to the towns and villages from which they were expelled will never be recognized by the Zionist state. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one of interpenetrated peoples: two peoples fighting for control of the same piece of land. The national emancipation of the Palestinians, including the right of return to their homeland, requires workers revolutions to shatter the Zionist state from within and to sweep away the capitalist ruling classes of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, which themselves lord it over sizable Palestinian populations. The fight to forge Marxist workers parties is essential to unite the proletariat of the region, from Israel to Egypt and beyond, in the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East. The national rights of both the Palestinian Arab and the Israeli Jewish peoples can be ensured only within that context.