The problem of illegal African migrants in Israel must be solved and Israel will solve it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday in response to the recent outbreak of violence against African infiltrators and refugees in the country.
"The problem of the infiltrators must be solved and we will solve it. We will complete construction of the fence within a few months and we will soon begin repatriating infiltrators back to their countries of origin," Netanyahu said.
In light of the recent civil unrest that took a violent turn on Wednesday night, which included fiery speeches against African migrants by three Knesset members, Netanyahu said, "I would like to make it clear that there is no place for either the expressions or the actions that we witnessed last night. I say this to public servants as well as to the residents of south Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand. We will solve the problem and we will do so responsibly.”
South Tel Aviv residents have grown despondent over the country's lack of ability to deal with the overflow of African migrants and refugees in their neighborhoods. Appearing before already angry protesters, many of them south Tel Aviv residents, on Wednesday, MKs Miri Regev and Danny Danon (Likud), along with MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) gave hard-line speeches against the African migrants that drew harsh condemnations. "The Sudanese are a cancer in our body," Regev said. Danon said, "An enemy state of infiltrators has risen," and Ben Ari said the "Sudanese belong in Sudan."
President Shimon Peres issued a condemnation of the violent words and actions against the African migrant workers, calling on Israelis to refrain from racism and incitement. "Hatred of foreigners contradicts the fundamental principles of Judaism," said Peres. "I am well aware of the difficulties faced by the residents of south Tel Aviv, but violence is not the solution."
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beitenu) said Thursday, "I condemn the violent behavior and call upon elected officials to refrain from inciting the public against others."
In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador in Israel Daniel Shapiro, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also spoke out against the recent incitement and violence. "There is no doubt that Israel has a serious problem over the issue of infiltrators seeking asylum, and the government must take a stance and find a solution. It is our duty as a society to protect our national and social interests … with a Jewish sensitivity and morality that requires protecting the defenseless and helping them."
Rivlin was also angered by the callous language adopted by the protesters: "You can protest and object, and demand that the government formulate a solution, but you cannot sink to incitement and language that anti-Semites use against us," he said.
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau on Thursday lambasted those who equated the incitment against the illegal migrants to the persecution of Jews in the Holocaust. "I completely reject this comparison," Lau said in an interview with Kol Israel radio.
"Some organizations are coming and writing to me that 'You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' This comparison is outrageous to me," said Lau. "We have enough dangers from the outside, and the country can't afford to ignore the fact that thousands of people are here illegally. It is a danger to the existence of the state; this situation could turn into a fifth column."
Meanwhile, Israel's handling of the African migrant workers and refugee problem also came under criticism in a U.S. State Department report on human rights for 2011 published on Thursday.
"The [Israeli] government ceased the practice of immediately returning African asylum seekers who reached the country through Egypt, but continued to deny many asylum seekers individual refugee status determinations, which impacted their ability to work or receive basic social services, including health care," the report said. "[Israel's] laws provide for the granting of temporary asylum and the government has established a system for providing temporary protection for most asylum seekers; however, there were complaints about the system’s accessibility and reports of discrimination.”
Based largely on information provided by the U.N., the report also said, "Serious labor rights abuses against foreign workers were common, and there were reported cases of trafficking for labor purposes."
Meanwhile, amid threats by south Tel Aviv residents that they would step up their aggression, support rallies for the African migrant community were held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Thursday.