That Israeli interior minister, Eli Yishai, last Friday in an interview with the Isreali newspaper, Maariv can claim “This country belongs to us, to the white man”, demonstrates the staggering ability of this modern world to echo the most abhorrent excesses of 20th century racist doctrine in the very state founded by those fleeing such persecution.
This isn’t just a case of an extremist grabbing headlines, such inflammatory and blatantly racist statements are the norm for various members of the Israeli government including the prime minister himself who claimed recently that “The breach of our borders by infiltrators could threaten the Jewish and democratic state (…) we will begin by removing the infiltrators from South Sudan and move on to others”.
Nor is this a case of politicians talking tough in order to garner votes. Just this month draconian legislation was passed allowing anyone attempting to enter of having entered Israel illegally to be imprisoned for up to three years. Furthermore, anyone helping migrants or providing them with shelter could face prison sentences of between five and 15 years.
Perhaps most worrying is the stoking of public anger against African immigrants, the latest direct consequence of which has been the firebombing of a house containing 10 Eritreans. Politicians such as Eli Yishai and Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union shamelessly associate African immigrants with viral diseases, HIV and criminality while sources from Israel´s very own health ministry clearly state that “99.9% of the migrants who come to work in Israel are not infected with any unique disease whatsoever” and a recent parliamentary committee recently found the percentage of crimes committed by foreigners to be 13.5% although they make up 28.5% of the population.
Despite the apparent contradictions, maybe in the end we should not be surprised: name the only two nation states in history to be explicitly based on ethnicity – Nazi Germany and Israel. Eli Yishai said he was speaking out of “love for my country”, but let this be a wakeup call for all Israelis who really love their country. Instead of perpetuating centuries old hate Israel must break from its past and embrace secularism, for a Jewish state – Judaism being the only major religion strictly based on lineage – will never be at peace.