So, there was a story about an immigration crackdown in a mostly African immigrant neighbourhood in Tel Aviv this past week. I’ve sat on this news for a while mostly because I was too chickenshit to say anything about it and also because it depresses me. Last night my friend (who is also half Moroccan Jew like me) told me a story about how his mother, growing up in Israel, would eat apple cores out of trashcans because she was hungry and her family too poor to afford proper meals. I was incensed and felt the call to write something
In the United States, we Americanized Jews are fed this idea of Israel as this egalitarian safe space where all are welcome and we are with our “people”. The irony is this is wholly untrue, especially for those who are not European Jews or residents of Israel who are from Africa such as refugees, migrant workers and other similar groups. I remember a story especially, back in 2010 where Ashkenazim (European Jews) didn’t want their children studying with Sephardim (North-African, Middle Eastern, Arab, Persian Jews etc) and were taking their kids out of schools. Segregation is illegal in Israel.
Recently, the anti-African hatred in Israel has grown to disgusting proportions and really highlights a gigantic disconnect between rich European Jews and their poor African neighbours while mirroring the Sephardic/Mizrahi experience in Israel for generations (though perhaps not to the extreme of current oppression): There have been numerous race riots where Africans are targeted, the police have been racially profiling migrant workers, Israel is building a detention centre for African migrants, sex-trafficking victims from Sudan and Ethiopia were put in a jail because shelter space was limited, but perhaps most chilling was the cheering of police as they hunted down Sudanese on the streets of Eliat.
I am the child of generations of Iberian-Sephardic Jews who made their home in Morocco after the racist Catholic monarchy expelled them in 1492 (same year they started conquering the “New” World, by the way). I am the child of Moroccans that survived the Holocaust because the King of Morocco refused to bow to the colonial Vichy regime’s Nazi policies. I was not born to sit here and be quiet while injustice is meted out by a powerful few. A writer for Haaretz, Sarah Kreimer put it well: “What would my grandfather say about migrant workers? We owe it to ourselves – as a society that understands what it means to be refugees – to treat them with basic human decency and respect.”
What is happening in Israel right now is wrong, very wrong. It is contrary to the teachings of our people. Palestinians are being pushed out of their homes and murdered in the streets, African refugees are being treated like criminals, land is being occupied, bombs are blowing up Jewish children in the name of G-d, drones and missiles are ripping apart communities. It must stop. I am only one voice, but I am raising it up.
I dedicate this article to my grandmother.