Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anti-Immigration Violence, Racism, Illegal Immigrants, Israel and the Ethnostate

Riot victim explains what happened

I've been really busy with other things over the past month so I am just now getting around to writing about this. But I as it turns out with it's still somewhat timely because of our recent discussions over illegal immigration, the President's decision to administratively implement portions of the Dream Act and this week's expected Supreme Court decision on Arizona's SB1070 law.

Let's say that a group of Caucasians ran violently amok against Third World illegal and legal immigrants, whom they blamed for increased crime, disease, unsustainable fertility and basic cultural and racial incompatibility. Imagine that their political and religious leaders endorsed the rioters' concerns in explicitly white supremacist language and promised new steps to detain and deport illegal immigrants while preventing legal immigrant entry on the basis of stopping a clear and present demographic danger. Allow that the leaders spoke of shooting illegal immigrants dead and driving out legal immigrants who were the wrong color or who had had the chutzpah to either compete for jobs with citizens, open businesses or date/marry citizens. Finally let's say that political leaders started building new detention centers just so any particularly dense illegal immigrants got the hint.

You'd probably think that Arizona had finally lost it. You might say that the National Guard needed to be sent into Arizona to protect visibly Hispanic people from violence. And if you shared the immigrants' ethnicity or were otherwise just a decent person upset about violence and racist language, you might be demanding that President Obama make it clear through word and deed that these sort of actions would not be tolerated.

Israeli citizens express desire for Africans to leave
What I described above above all happened but it was not in Arizona and did not involve Hispanics. It occurred in Israel and involved Africans. So this didn't get a lot of mainstream U.S. media attention. Surprising I know. I was intrigued by it though because it touched on some basic truths about humanity and history that I think we overlook at our peril.

The United States is unusual in being (theoretically anyway) a country in which race and ethnicity are delinked from citizenship. As long as you are born here you are a citizen. Period. Most Americans may still be Caucasian but anyone on the planet can become an American. There is no way that you can look at someone and automatically say he's not an American. This country was multiracial and even multicultural from the start. The American political journey has been to formally recognize these facts and deal with the hypocrisies, challenges or opportunities that flow from them. 

But many other countries simply were not created like that and certainly aren't crazy about diversity now. Although times are changing there remains a pretty good chance that you can visually discern Ugandans from Finns or Japanese from Scots. Some countries make a link between ancestry, culture, ethnicity and citizenship. Israel is one such country. If you are non-Jewish, there is a slightly less level of citizenship enjoyed, that is if you are allowed to become a citizen in the first place, which you probably won't be. Israel intends to remain a Jewish state. 

So the current situation in Israel vis a vis the immigrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa is pretty interesting because there is hypocrisy enough to go around for everyone. Obviously I don't and can't agree with the ugly white supremacist thinking revealed and reveled in by some Israelis. One woman legislator compared the Africans to cancer patients and then apologized cancer patients. Seriously. Someone tried to burn down an apartment building inhabited by Eritreans. Netanyahu has said the Africans are a demographic threat. A rabbi who is the spiritual leader of Shas said that Africans are ruining the Jewish dream and need to go build their dream in their own countries.
"A society personifying a social time bomb of robbery, violence, sodomy as well as assimilation alongside the destruction of the institute of marriage and the proper family unit – such a society must be separate and distant, and the sooner the better. Listen up, dear and kind Sudanese people. In the United States, Martin Luther King's dream came true. Giuliani will tell you how he made it happen. Go forth and implement this in Sudan and Eritrea. We promise to help you, we'll even be delighted to help, as always."
Yishai, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told the newspaper Maariv on Friday he saw the African arrivals, many of whom are Muslims or Christians, as a demographic threat."The infiltrators along with the Palestinians will quickly bring us to the end of the Zionist dream," Yishai said, adding that Israel had its own health and welfare issues. "Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn't belong to us, the white man," Yishai said in the interview with Maariv.

Abraham Alu, a 35-year-old refugee from what is now South Sudan, was on his way to the store last Wednesday night when an anti-African protest in south Tel Aviv turned violent. Jewish Israelis chased and beat African asylum seekers, broke the windows of a car full of African men, and smashed storefronts of African-owned stores in south Tel Aviv. Alu, who was headed out to buy food, almost ran into a mob. But police pointed to the group headed in his direction and said, “Run, they’ll murder you! Run!” Alu turned around and headed back to the tiny, one-room apartment he shares with 11 other South Sudanese men.
TJ, a 29-year-old migrant from Nigeria, watched the violent chaos from his rooftop having been chased and pelted with rocks when he attempted to leave his house."There were protesters everywhere smashing shop and car windows," he said. "A group of about 10 or 15 boys stopped one black kid cycling on his bike. They pulled him off and were punching and kicking him in his head. The police just stood and watched until it got really out of control." Other witnesses described a gang assaulting a mother carrying a young baby so violently that she was forced to drop her child. Others stopped shuttle buses to search for migrant workers among their passengers.'TJ' says he is among the few who has left his home following the violence: "Black people have been too afraid to leave their homes to go to work today. Racism in Tel Aviv is not only getting worse it's getting out of hand and the police are no help. We are terrified." 
These immigrants and refugees generally aren't welcomed in Arab North Africa either or the Middle East, often for the same reasons. The overthrow of Qaddafi released some of the same anti-black hatred. Israel hardly stands alone. Egypt doesn't want these people any more than Israel does. Some Israelis feel that because Israel was set up as a place of Jewish refuge then it must be one for other refugees, even if they look different or have different cultures. Some Israelis are saddened and disgusted by the vituperative racism shown by some of their countrymen and countrywomen. Others say, racism or no, that there is a point beyond which a group or nation cannot accept outsiders without losing that which made the nation worth having in the first place. There are roughly about 5.8 million Jews in Israel. They have no intention of allowing immigrants to reach the numbers or percentages that are seen in America or France or the UK. Israel was not the former colonial power of Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia or Eritrea and in this point of view really bears no responsibility for economic or political refugees from those countries. A new law allows a three year detention of illegal immigrants to Israel.
The really incredibly disgusting hypocritical thing though is if any political leader in Europe dared to say anything remotely negative about the presence of Jewish people within their historic homelands, some of the same thugs yelling "Throw the blacks out" in Tel Aviv would be the first people howling about anti-semitism in Europe. And God forbid if an European nation experienced a new anti-Jewish Kristallnacht type riot. I have no doubt that the US ambassador to the UN would be standing up to loudly condemn that country while Netanyahu adroitly reminded everyone that this is how the Holocaust got started. But that's life I guess. Hypocrisy is deeply woven within humans. Perhaps we all have a tendency to look out for our own first and say to hell with the other guy.

Both liberal and conservative strands are part of what make us human. To horribly generalize for a moment, often the liberal wants to accept and help others and often has an issue admitting that peoples or cultures are different or that there really is such a thing as "in-group" or "out-group". Liberals are at their best making appeals to universal and transcendent human values and not necessarily parochial national or ethnic ones. Some liberals can be rather suspicious of or hostile to solidarity appeals based solely on group membership, especially if the group is one you were born into or is not a "disadvantaged group". At the extremes of course well this can fall into an inability to recognize that your own culture or way of life is valid and worth defending.

African immigrants seeking food
But the conservative person has no problem accepting in-groups and out-groups. Often such identities track closely with how he sees the world. "Ours" and "Mine" are not automatically bad words to a conservative. The idea that this particular bunch of goodies or patch of land belongs to the people who live there and not to those "others" is self-evident to many people with this pov. Again, taken to the extremes this falls into hierarchical thinking, an inability to recognize yourself in others, xenophobia and open gleeful racism. There is a serious conflict between democracy and racial/ethnic/religious tribalism.

This is not just a black-white phenomenon or even a First World-Third World issue. There have been anti-Chinese riots in Zambia, anti-African riots in China (The Tiananmen Square uprising mutated from anti-African clashes), Muscovite Russians rioting against Caucasian Russians, Indian Hindus seeking to slaughter Indian Muslims, Black South Africans attacking illegal immigrant Black Zimbabweans and so on. US/THEM thinking is something that may be ugly and seemingly atavistic in humankind but it's certainly not going away anytime soon. The trick is to recognize it and channel it properly without giving into it completely, as seems to be happening in Israel. There is a middle ground which welcomes the legal newcomer but doesn't ask to remove the concept of a nation. Despite all the epithets hurled at Americans who are opposed to illegal immigration, I don't see the current American political structure welcoming or endorsing the open violence we see in Israel. I think part of this is chickens coming home to roost as some forms of political Zionism lend themselves or almost require the sort of ugly chauvinism and racism that we see expressed. Zionism is not, after all, completely congruent with the American political system.

What's your take?
1) Had you heard about this? Are you surprised?
2) Do countries have a right to expel illegal immigrants and/or people who have different cultures? Do countries have a right to seek to maintain a certain demographic balance?
3) Does Israel have any special duty to accept refugees?
4) Should President Obama censure Israel for its actions?
5) Is the nation state passe? Should everyone have open borders?
blog comments powered by Disqus