African Refugees in Israel: The plight of non-Jews in the Zionist State


Video and Edited Transcript
David Sheen
Transcript No. 400 (26 February 2014)


“African Refugees in Israel: The plight of non-Jews in the Zionist State”


David Sheen
Independent Journalist

Yousef Munayyer:  The talk today is devoted to African refugees in Israel and the plight of non-Jews in the Zionist state. I will just say about this topic that one of the reasons why we thought this is so important to highlight is not only because of the urgent human rights imperative involved with this particular issue but also because of the important parallels that can be drawn between the experiences of this community and the experiences of the Palestinians as they both relate to the policies of the Israeli state. Joining us to talk about this conflict is David Sheen. He’s an independent journalist and film maker originally from Toronto, Canada. He now lives in Dimona and he’s been blogging since he moved to Israel in 1999 and went on to work as a reporter and editor in the Israeli Haaretz. He’s currently writing a book about African immigrants to Israel and the struggles that they face. David has been one of the most, if not the most, outspoken advocate and cataloguer about the plight of African refugees in Israel. It’s a pleasure to have him here today and welcome him to talk about this topic.

David Sheen: Thank you for having me. Thank you to everyone at the Palestine Center. I’d like for everyone to imagine if they could, a dystopic America, one slightly different from the one you’re living in currently, in which the director of the largest hospital in Philadelphia announces that he regrets the Jews are having babies and bans Jews from entering the hospital unless it’s an emergency. In which the largest preacher in Palm Beach county organizes preachers across the nation to issue a religious edict banning Christians from renting apartments to Jews. In which Philadelphia city counselor proposes that there be new municipal bus lines only for Jews because they smell and spread diseases. In which the Brooklyn city counselor evicts Jews from their apartments in the middle of the winter. In which the mayor of Charlotte simply rounds all the Jews in town onto buses and kicks them out of town. In which the mayor of Sacramento puts flags up all around the city and declares that the city is now at war with Jewish people. In which Jews living in Los Angeles  are cornered into just one living section of town, a ghetto for Jews only. In which the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Jay Johnson, announces that “Why can’t Jews just accept that the United States is a Christian nation,” calling them disease bearers and saying that he will make their lives miserable until they leave. In which Attorney General Eric Holder revises the legal status of Jews and henceforth they can be arrested, prosecuted, and jailed, even without having the right to a fair trial.

Everything I’ve just described to you is of course fictitious but this is exactly the situation in Israel. Of course, I’m talking about the sister cities so it’s not in Philadelphia but in its sister city of Tel Aviv, where the director of the largest hospital complained that Africans were having babies and banned Africans from entering the hospital. And not Palm Beach county but its sister city of Safed, where the chief rabbi organized all the chief rabbi’s around the country to issue a religious edict banning Jews from renting apartments to Africans and other non-Jews. Not Philadelphia but again its sister city Tel Aviv, where its chief counselor proposed that there be separate bus lines for Africans because they smell and spread diseases. And not Brooklyn but Bnei Brak, where the mayor actually kicked Africans out of their apartments in the middle of the winter. And not Charlotte, but in Hadera where the mayor rounded up Africans and kicked them out of town. And not Sacramento, but in Ashkelon where they were cornered into a separate section of town and only allowed to live in that area. And not in Los Angeles but in Eilat, where flags were hung all over town and the mayor declared that because they have now reached ten percent of the population, the city was now at war with Africans. And not the department of Homeland Security but Israel’s Interior Minister announced that Africans were disease-bearers and that he was going to make their lives miserable until they leave the country.

And not Attorney General Eric Holder but Attorney General of Israel, who implemented  policies which essentially strip Africans of their legal right to trial and they can now just be accused of a crime and that’s enough to have them carted off to Jail.
To understand how far back you have to go in American history to reach a similar state of affairs, you would actually have to go back to 1850, when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, under which any white person could accuse any black person of actually being his property, even if this is in a northern state, Michigan or anywhere else, and that black man or woman was not able to present any evidence in her favor or his favor that she or he was a free person and just the accusation alone was enough to have them carted off and taken down to the South. That’s the situation in Israel today and I’ll explain just one quick example of how this would manifest and does manifest on a daily basis.

You see the African person on the bike confronted by the police, being asked, “Excuse me, that bicycle is it yours”? “Yes this is my bicycle.” “Prove it.” “What do you mean prove it”? “Do you have a receipt for that bicycle, can you prove that you purchased that bicycle?” “No I don’t usually carry around receipts from of the bicycle I bought six months ago.” “Well I’m sorry you’re under suspicion of stealing that bicycle you’re going to have to come with me to jail.” That’s the legal status of African Asylum seekers in Israel today. No recourse to the courts. I’m not talking about the Africans who were airlifted by the Israeli government in the late 80’s and 90’s. I’m not talking about the Africans who serve in the army or the Africans who serve in the Knesset or the Africans who win beauty pageants in Israel. To be precise, I’m not speaking about African Jews or Jewish Africans or as they’re often referred to, Ethiopian Israelis. To be sure, Ethiopian Israelis and other Jews of color do experience racism in Israel.
White supremacy is a problem everywhere in the world including in Israel and including here in the United States of America, where people with less pigment believe they have more privilege and people with more pigment often have less privileges. Of course, other systems of oppression are also in place in Israel, like nativism, where people who immigrated less recently believe they have more privileges than people who immigrated more recently. And of course classism, where people who have accrued more stuff believe they  should have more privileges than people who have accrued less stuff. But on top of this in Israel you have the added layer of oppression of Jewish supremacy where people who are Jewish or more Jewish, however one would define that, have more privileges in the state of Israel than people who are not Jewish or people who are less Jewish.

I’ll give you an example of how all these systems of oppression intersect. From this news piece published in Haaretz : “In the corners of the living quarters of the Africans, you will find the filth……. card games played for money, residents getting drunk, and prostitution. The Africans bring this way of life with them when they migrate and it is no wonder that crime in the country is in the upswing. Young women and even young men are not safe again going out on the streets alone after dark.” This text could easily be published in an Israeli newspaper nowadays talking about these African asylum seekers. But in fact, this text was published in 1949. It wasn’t published about these Africans who’ve only just recently arrived, but published about Jewish Africans from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt: North African Jews who had migrated to Israel. As I said, the experience of nativism, of people who further back in time immigrated to the country believing they have more rights and privileges than people who only recently immigrated is almost a long standing tradition: this idea of resenting new immigrants and resenting those who are poorer than those who arrived further back. But let’s just say the racism against Jewish Africans pales in comparison to racism against non-Jewish people of color.

You can understand what I’m talking about, let’s focus on a map so you can see who the characters are in this drama. This is of course us here, North America. Northeast Africa is where we’re going to zoom in and here are the names of the countries, we’re going to remove some of them and just focus on the main actors. Refugees from Sudan started migrating to Libya, hoping through Libya to reach Europe, and for many years they did. But then European governments cut a deal with Qaddafi, agreeing that they would purchase more oil from him if he would agree to police his maritime borders and prevent Africans from reaching Europe. And so once he did that and that migration route was cut off, then there was an influx of Sudanese refugees heading toward Egypt. After a few years they then continued onto Israel and a couple years after that, refugees from Eritrea also followed the same migration route.

Many people ask me why wouldn’t they just stop in Egypt. Why would these asylum seekers not end their journey there? Why would they continue onto Israel? And the reason why is because in the middle of the last decade, you had a protest by African refugees, Sudanese refugees, in Cairo in front of the UN office demanding that they receive the refugee rights they were entitled to. Egyptian police came in and just started beating and shooting people, and they killed dozens of men, women, and children. Ever since that day, African refugees have not felt safe in Egypt and that’s when the migration towards Israel began, crossing the desert to reach what they were told was a democratic country.

So they arrive in Israel, and sure enough within short order, as I described earlier, when they only constituted a few dozen in the city of Hadera, even that was too much and the mayor had the police round up the Africans in town, stick them onto buses, and dump them off in another city. And just so that you don’t think this is some kind of marginal extremist, this mayor of Hadera who kicked out all the Africans, is embraced by Benjamin Netanyahu and they campaign together because they work hand in hand, these policies became the policies of the new Netanyahu government once he was elected in 2009. With Netanyahu rising to the top office in the country, his first move is to appoint Eli Yishai, then the head of the openly Jewish supremacist Shas Party, to the position of Interior Minister, which in Israel holds a lot of power, which includes the power to determine whether people are allowed to enter or exit the country. Just so you understand what the Shas party is, their spiritual leader in 2010 openly declared that all non-Jewish people were created by God for the sole purpose of serving Jewish people, they are donkeys intended to serve their masters. This is the spiritual guidance of this party and put in the position of deciding who enters the party, the first thing that Eli Yishai does is take away from the UN the right to decide who can be considered a refugee and who won’t. He gives that power to the government itself.

They invited this man Joel Moss, who is an Orthodox Jew from Canada, and he had spent decades working with the Canadian government at implementing its own refugee policy and after working there he saw that Israel was dealing with its first ever wave of non-Jewish asylum seekers. He wanted to contribute to the state of Israel as an Orthodox Jew, he felt connected to the country and with his vast experience, he wanted to help Israel implement and create an infrastructure for dealing with potential refugees. And after he had been on the job and trained a staff of people to take on this task, he said, “We, the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, we trained Israeli officers to the highest international standards, but the system is basically carved out to reject claims. The state is doing just about everything it can to not implement the spirit of the Geneva Convention. Instead of judging claims effectively, it is deterring refugees from coming or staying here”.

The Africans themselves claim that they have come to the country because they are fleeing ethnic cleansing and they are fleeing political persecution. I don’t need to tell you about Sudan, I’m sure you’ve heard enough stories of all the ethnic cleansing that’s gone on there. Without going into too many details, the next largest portion of these African asylum seekers are from Eritrea. Eritrea, in its entire history has never held a national election. So you can imagine the kinds of political persecution that goes on there without going into too much detail. On their way to Israel, many of these Asylum seekers are kidnapped by gangs of human traffickers and then they are held in torture camps for weeks and months. Their relatives are called on mobile phones, they are tortured while they are on the phones with their relatives so that their relatives can hear this, be haunted by this and agree to pay ransom through shady money networks and in addition to conventional torture methods, the beatings and rapes and gang rapes and electrocutions, they’ve also patented a new method of torture specific to the Sinai where they take plastic bags and they burn them and then they drip the plastic onto peoples bodies. Every news organization from CNN to Al-Jazeera has already documented this.

Another common claim is, “What about these other countries, why don’t you speak about them? Why don’t they accept refugees?” The truth is that 80 percent of the refugees in the world are living in so-called developing nations. It’s the poorest people of the world who are taking on the burden of sheltering most of the world’s refugees. In Israel’s own neighborhood you have countries taking in tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of refugees. This isn’t even updated. If it were the most recent numbers, you would see Lebanon not with half a million but upwards of several million Syrian refugees. If we compare Israel to the countries that it wishes or aspires to be among, you’d see that again Eritreans who make up something like 60 percent of asylum seekers in Israel receive 90 percent refugee acceptance rate in the United States. In some countries it’s more even. In France it’s still over 50 percent In Israel the acceptance rate is zero. You can see Israel actually leads the world in having the lowest acceptance rate of refugees and that’s by looking at the amount of Asylum seekers in the country ,In Israel there are approximately 55,000 asylum seekers in the country, and by comparing it to the amount of people who actually receive status.

I think last year they actually accepted one African refugee, it happened to be a white person, an albino. Not that they didn’t deserve refugee status, I’m sure they did but it says something when the only African you accept for refugee status is a non-black African. The people themselves of course say, “We are escaping persecution, we are fleeing persecution,” But according to the government, they are all liars. The government says that they are all just seeking a better life, hoping to work and make money and after a few years retire off of this capital that they’ve accrued and return to their countries of origin.

So starting with the new Netanyahu government, you have the formation of immigration police who conduct sweeps in Tel Aviv and demand people’s papers and send them off to jail, with the idea of getting them out of city centers. Soon after you have incitement where again as I alluded to earlier, you have dozens of rabbis across Tel Aviv signing these religious edicts, informing Jews that they must cease renting apartments to non-Jews and then it takes off on a national scale and you have hundreds of chief rabbis across the country and they’re instructing their constituents to not rent apartments to Africans and Arabs and the sickest part of all is when you actually read the Hebrew tract where they instruct people not to rent Africans, the justification they give for this referencing a chapter verse of the Bible where there are calls for ethnic cleansing. Based on these calls for ethnic cleansing, of killing off other people in the land, that’s why you should not rent apartments to any non-Jewish people, it’s sick logic.

I actually support free speech and believe people should have the right to say what they want, but these aren’t just random people, these are chief rabbis who are on the public payroll. It’s my tax money that goes to pay these people’s salaries. As you can see, they are paid quite handsomely, and this is what they do with these salaries. They incite racism. Then you have in the city of Eilat, flags throughout the city, red flags that denote we are at war with the African. And signs throughout the city that read: “We are all preserving and defending our home. The residents of Eilat are putting an end to infiltration,” And you have these mass rallies, headed often by members of the Knesset where you have gangs of people roaming through the streets in areas where there are large concentrations of Africans and screaming and yelling at them, “Get the hell out of the country,” and these are some still shots of these anti-African rallies that I’ve documented. It’s one thing to hear adults and it’s another thing altogether to hear five or six year old kids saying, “Yeah daddy, we have to kick out the n-words.” It’s so shaking. If you go to these demonstrations, you’ll hear that the discourse on the street is often around miscegenation, rather anti-miscegenation the drive to prevent people from so called different races or religions or ethnic groups from entering into romantic relationships.

And so you see the poster reading “Jewish girls for Jewish people,” basically, “Get your hands off our women.” This is a common refrain at these anti-African rallies. It’s a big reason why people don’t want non-Jewish Africans in the country because they don’t want their daughters to be tempted by the virile African men, booga-booga, this concept of the over-sexed Africans and this crazy stereotype is actually very, very commonly held. A lot of these anti-African racism, I believe, and, as it turns out, when you listen to the people on the street and ask them what motivates their racism, it’s often this fear that somehow Jewish genes will be infiltrated by African people and they trying to prevent that from happening.

So the end result is that the government does not allow the Africans to work in the country. It allows them in, because it doesn’t want to outright deport them. If it outright deports them, it would just look so horrible on the world stage and be so scandalous. So it allows these asylum seekers into the country, but the goal is to make their lives miserable, as per the quote of the Interior Minister, hoping that without means of sustaining themselves, without the right to work, and earn a living, and they will eventually just give up, and try to find some other way, some other place. And so, often they are working in dead-end jobs, and making less than minimum wage, without any protection, and easily exploitable by their employers. And if they aren’t even able to find that meager income, then they are living with ten people in a room, and they are crashing in some kind of bomb shelter, or sleeping in the park, even in the cold, even in the winter, even in the rain. And then, in addition to the top-down racism from the government and the religious officials, there is the grassroots, bottom-up community organizations that organize these anti-African rallies then you have the civil society joining in. Even soup kitchens, Tel Aviv to Eilat, began banning Africans, saying, “We will only serve food to Jews. We are not going to be serving Africans anymore.” So the weakest segment of society isn’t even serviced by soup kitchens. And thankfully, a few good hearted Israelis started up, in response to this, a soup kitchen that specifically works out of South Tel Aviv Park, where a large number of African people make their ad-hoc community center.  And so, there is at least that. But the government’s efforts ramp up, and in January 12th, the government passes the Anti-Infiltration Law, and it easily passes, and it is on the basis of this law that Africans are essentially criminalized. And at this point, what I described earlier as anyone can be arrested for any crime, all of this followed this law, which essentially places them in a different legal category.

Interestingly, this law actually isn’t a law, but an amendment to a previous law originally legislated in 1953, which was originally passed in order to criminalize Palestinians who themselves had fled fighting in ‘47 and ‘48 and now returning to their homes and villages and families and communities and orchards and fields, the government wanted to prevent them because the government wants as few non-Jewish people in the country as possible, so it passed the law in 1953 to prevent Palestinians, to criminalize them and label them as terrorists. So now, this old law was being resuscitated in order to apply to African asylum seekers. So as soon as it passes this law, I was asked by an African NGO in Tel Aviv to author a report about all this racism, government sponsored racism, and I did so, and the UN responded by agreeing with what I have written, and, you know, telling the government that it had to strike down this law that it had passed that discriminates against African asylum seekers and demanding that it condemn these political and religious leaders that made these racist statements.

But the government did no such thing, and the next month, you have Israelis firebombing African people’s homes. You have, in a single night, seven African families, their homes were firebombed, including an African kindergarten, if you could imagine that. Didn’t make it to the American media, did it? I am going to come back to this story. Of course, there are Israelis who are incensed and outraged by this insane racism, and right after the firebombing, there were people who went out to the streets, to that very spot and screamed, and yelled, and protested, and demanded an end to the racism. But these Israelis are not only marginalized, but vilified, and called traitors. These people are so delegitimized that they have to really think twice or three times before they take a stand because they know that by merely expressing solidarity with African asylum seekers and opposing to the idea that they have to be drive out of the country made themselves become targets of racist hatred and that can take the form of people wishing death upon them or wishing rape upon them, and that’s quite common. And if you think it’s bad that men have to hear it, you don’t want to hear what the women who advocate for Africans have to listen to. Some of the most horrible curses you can imagine.

After the firebombing, basically every other night, there was an anti-African march, or rally, or an African man stabbed, or an African man shot, and this goes on for months and on May 23rd, 2012, you have a full on anti-African race riot, home grown. So she is wearing a home-made T-shirt reads: “Death to the Sudanese.” Again, it’s led by the same member of the Knesset, Michael Ben-Ari and he rips people up. But it’s not just him, there were several members of the Knesset that are with the ruling Likud Party who also spoke and that demonstration in South Tel Aviv, including famously Miri Regev, who called Africans a cancer. Responding to this, people got stirred up, and they just went on a rampage, and they ran through the streets, like a thousand people running through the streets to Tel Aviv attacking any dark-skinned person they saw, running up to buses, “Are there any African people in this bus? Get them out. Let’s get them.” Smashing vehicles the Africans were driving in. This woman was based behind from her head with a beer bottle, and threw her kid to the ground. Of course, any African operated cafes, restaurants were ransacked, smashed, and looted. You think that in response to this horrific night of violence that people would look into a mirror and reflect and, you know, realize that maybe we overstepped our bounds and we have to take accounts for what we’ve done. There was no such accounting. You had the most bewildering sight in the days that followed with the Africans marching to the United Nations, pleading with the United Nations, “Please defend us, we are under attack. We are humans, not cancer.”

And it wasn’t just that one member of the Knesset who called Africans cancer. In the week that followed the race riot, a survey was conducted in which it turns out that over half of Israeli Jews agreed with her comments that Africans are cancer. A full 33 percent, a third of Israeli Jews, supported the violent vigilante attacks, like those that occurred that night. Incidentally, I should point out that member of Knesset did apologize for calling Africans cancer, but she actually apologized not to Africans, who she compared to cancer, but to apologize to cancer victims, for comparing them to Africans. So also in the days that followed, you have leading rabbis from B’nei Brak issuing another religious edict, and this one defines any Israelis who come to the aid of Africans as “rodef.” A “rodef,” according to Jewish theology, is the designation they gave to Yitzhak Rabin, if you remember, the Israeli Prime Minister who is assassinated in the weeks and months leading up to his assassination, right wing rabbis issued this edict, which classified him as a “rodef,” meaning that he is an evil man, and he is a pursuer, and therefore, any Jew may murder him and be free of the consequences. There would be no repercussions if anyone out there who tries to kill this man. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to Yitzhak Rabin. On the basis of this religious edict, an Orthodox Jewish man went out and assassinated the prime minister.

So now you have the same designation being given by these Israeli rabbis, again, paid for by my tax money, the same designation given to any Israelis who come to the aid of Africans. This is following the pogrom. Also following the same week, you have that same attorney general issuing a ruling on Torat HaMelech, the King’s Torah. Now, just briefly, this book is essentially a gentile-murdering manual. It’s written by two crazy right-wing Rabbis who deliberated on under what circumstances is it permissible to murder a non-Jew, even a non-Jewish child, even a non-Jewish baby? The answer is, I will spare you the trouble of having to read it, the answer is yes. They ruled that yes, it is permissible. And you would think that the government would charge these people with incitement to murder. But no, two days after the pogrom, he ruled that there will be no charges against them because they didn’t specify, they didn’t say Palestinians, or Palestinian babies should be killed. They said non-Jews may be killed, non-Jewish babies. Because they weren’t specific enough, they only refer to all non-Jews, therefore, they would not be prosecuted.

So, in the weeks that followed, you had six ambassadors from different African countries posted in Israel, pleading with the foreign ministry, “Listen, we, our wives, can’t go anywhere, we can’t walk out into the streets without being accosted and attacked. The fear on the streets, I mean, it’s probable that we can’t walk anywhere on the streets without being victims of racist hatred, incited by the leading members of the government. You have to put an end to this.” So even the Africans with the most amount of privileges are feeling the heat. The government then begins its policy of deportation. This is when it begins the deportations. The first people to go are the people from South Sudan. South Sudan was a newly created state in mid-2012, so the government said, “Now, you got your own country, you can go home.” Of course, human rights activists were warning, “it may be a sovereign nation, but there is still 50 percent of the people living in it that don’t even have access to clean drinking water.” Of course, this didn’t matter to the government, and it began deporting.

Within a week and a half, you have children who were born in Israel, who spoke Hebrew, who knew no other country than Israel, are now being deported to Sudan. Within ten days, they are already dying from diseases that easily could have been treated in Israeli hospitals. Now, remember what I told you about that kindergarten that was firebombed. Well, by the end of the year, the man who established the kindergarten, who ran so that young children would have a place to go, he was deported by the government; and the man, the same month, the man who firebombed the African kindergarten, he was let off by the courts, served no jail time whatsoever. So we are now at the end of 2012, and the government has built a fence, a high tech fence, along the border between Egypt and Israel so that no more African asylum seekers will be able to easily cross over. Until that point the border was not demarcated very intensively with any physical barrier. So now the fence runs the length of the border, Benjamin Netanyahu comes out there, announces this is the end of African migration, we have succeeded in building this barrier. Of course, he didn’t mention that many of the men who worked on creating the fence were actually Africans themselves, were looking for a pittance– what are you going to do, you need to make a living.

End of 2012, newspaper headlines: Eighty-year-old Israeli woman raped by an African man. Of course, it brings out in people all of the anger, all of the hatred and people flood the streets demanding all the Africans be deported from the country immediately. Now, what’s interesting is that exactly 100 years previously, in 1913 there was a similar case right here in the United States of America. With this man, a Jew by the name of Leo Frank, he owned and operated a factory and a young girl who’s working for him was raped and murdered. He was accused of raping and murdering her, if he did it we’ll never know, because there was a lynch mob that broke into the jail, tied him up and hung him. And on the basis of this occurrence, the Anti-Defamation League was formed with the demand that, never again will we allow people to be the victims of mob violence on the basis of their ethnic heritage. Of course, in the entire 100 years of its existence, celebrated last year in 2013, the ADL did not mention once, did not come up with one public statement criticizing the Israeli government as it rounded up African refugees and criminalized them, started to deport them and incite racial violence against them, not once. And, it’s not just him, it’s pretty much across the board– ironically because American Jewish leaders are often in strong support of leniency towards migrants especially in this country, where they’re a minority and can themselves benefit from increased tolerance towards minorities. But in Israel, where Jews are the majority, they haven’t said one word and they silently support this effort to remove non-Jews from the country.

Just so you see, this is the amount we’re talking about, it’s less than one percent of the population. That’s what’s so threatening. New election cycle, Netanyahu running for Prime Minister once again, and now campaigning on the basis of having stopped the African migration, there are no new Africans entering the country. The number has been capped– there are only 55,000 and it won’t increase. Sure enough, on the basis of this campaign he returns to power. It’s not only at the national stage where this issue becomes a focus. Even locally, people campaign on the basis of it. Imagine if you were walking down the street and you saw a poster like this: “To keep those Jews far from my daughter, I’m voting for the Christian Identity Party.” This is a fictitious sign I invented in Photoshop, but this is a real sign, a campaign poster in the city of Hadera and it’s exactly word for word the exact same content. The person who ran on the basis of it got into power and the newspaper the first week afterwards wondered aloud on the first page, “Did they get in because of their anti-Arab policies or because of their anti-African stance?” And this wasn’t just in the periphery. Even in the heart of this supposed bastion of liberalism in Tel Aviv, I couldn’t go more than fifty meters in any direction outside my apartment without seeing this poster which again I’ve translated for you into English for those of you who don’t read Hebrew. Again, anti-miscegenation messages. And with all these messages I began to feel like I needed to understand where this was all coming from and I needed to create a safe space here, graffiti, “kick out the n-word,” everywhere you go.

And so I moved down to Dimona where there is actually a community of African people, African Americans who moved to Israel starting forty years ago and have a community of several thousand people and I thought it was some kind of safe space where I wouldn’t have to experience so much racism, but after a short period of time I realized the same racism had followed me there and this is graffiti literally two minutes walk from my house: “We hate the N-word.” Still, till this day, many people in this community do not have status, do not have the right to work, do not have health care. Like my friend Dahlia, just had a baby, cannot get health care for the baby boy because she doesn’t have J-positive blood, that’s the only reason. She was born in Israel, she speaks perfect Hebrew. In every sense of the word she’s Israeli, but because she’s not blood Jewish she doesn’t have access. So, I started going through the archives of the Israeli government and I realize that the same hatred directed towards this crop of African immigrants was directed towards the Africans who had immigrated from America forty, thirty, twenty years ago, exactly one to one. Even though this group is 55,000, this group was only 1,500 at the beginning and the same hatred was directed towards them. Even though the government official Knesset researcher discovered that the crime rate of Africans was actually lower than the crime rate of native Israelis, quickly he was sacked from his position and the report was buried and never heard from since. So, a lot of parallels between what happened then and what’s happening now. The United States government is now issuing a report saying that the treatment of Africans in Israel is a most significant human rights problem. The woman who called the Africans “cancer” is now elevated to the position of Head of the Interior committee, in charge of the policy of what happens to Africans. Government reports being issued advising the government to concentrate the African migrants. Supreme Court rules it’s unconstitutional and that the government needs to release them. The government ignores the report and just creates another loophole, insisting that it will now round Africans up off the streets of Tel Aviv into these desert detention centers. And, eventually starts to deport them on July 15th, 2013 which was 75 years to the day after the Evian conference when the nations of the world refused to accept Jewish refugees trying to flee Nazi Germany. Seventy-five years later to the day Israeli begins its transportation of the Sudanese, back to Africa, back to where they fled from. Of course, the UN representative calling it the greatest violation possible of the refugee convention Israel signed– a crime never before committed.

Just to say that in recent months, you have African people protesting in the streets, realizing that Israel is in its end game, that now it’s moving forward faster than ever to implement this policy, to rid the country of non-Jewish Africans, rounding them into these desert camps. It’s inspiring to see people stand up for their rights and demand freedom and demand their refugee rights and that the government looks at their claims and examine them and grant them the rights that they deserve. Sadly, Netanyahu’s heart is hard and the people have not found fit to sympathize and no matter how much they protest and how much they go on strike, and it’s quite impressive to see 30,000 people on strike in front of the U.S. Consulate, the Canadian Embassy, the African Union, the UN; it doesn’t seem to matter. The government is adamant in its policy and the people are also unwilling to allow these people to stay. Eighty percent of people either want them rounded up or in jail or kicked out of the country altogether.

So, the last thing that I’ll say before we go is that this policy can only be possible because the government differentiates between Jewish and non-Jewish people and the demand that’s being made of Palestinians and of all kinds of governments all over the world is that Israel’s status as a Jewish nation be acknowledged and that Israel be given the right to pursue its practices of Jewish privilege, of granting privileges to its Jewish citizens and stripping non-Jewish residents of these same privileges. So that’s why if there’s anything to be learned from this, it’s that this must be opposed adamantly, we cannot allow the international community to agree for Israel to be acknowledged as the Jewish state as if the United States should be granted the right to be acknowledged as a white Christian state because if this can happen in a state without having that legitimacy, imagine what happens once the world acknowledges that Israel is the Jewish state. Then it will just feel free to run rampant over any semblance of human rights and if there’s one thing we have to take from this it’s that we have to stand in opposition to this demand. Thanks for listening and thanks for caring.


David Sheen is an independent journalist and film maker originally from Toronto, Canada who now lives in Dimona, Israel. Sheen began blogging when he first moved to Israel in 1999 and later went on to work as a reporter and editor at the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. His full-length documentary on ecological architecture, “First Earth”, was translated into a dozen languages and published by PM Press in 2010. Sheen gave a TEDx talk on the topic of the film in Johannesburg, South Africa later that year. He is currently writing a book about African immigrants to Israel and the struggles they face. Sheen’s website is and he tweets from @davidsheen. .