Israel has been locking up African migrants. It has refused to grant asylum to most migrants, instead interning them for indefinite periods of time. The migrants find themselves, much like migrants in other parts of the world, in a twilight zone existence, living underground in order to avoid arrest, but sought after by Israeli employers who, like so many other employers in other countries—including but not limited to the U.S.—seek low-waged, vulnerable workers.
The African migrants in Israel have been demonized in both the mainstream but most especially by leaders of hard, right-wing organizations, who see them as a threat to the demographics of Israel. With 20 percent of Israel being Palestinian (and growing), the presence of the African migrants both scares and infuriates that segment of Israel that believes that their country must be ethnically pure in order to survive.
Over the last few weeks, African migrants have been engaging in organizing and mobilizing to insist upon their human rights. If the Israeli establishment is going to ignore them, then the migrants are prepared to take their case to the United Nations. Nevertheless, someone needs to quickly address the ghetto-ization of the migrants and the desperate poverty that they are facing. As a friend of mine on our trip noted, this situation is explosive and all that needs to happen for a disaster is one problematic step by the authorities and the lid could come off of Tel Aviv.
Both the presence of the African migrants and the unresolved situation of the Palestinians (who remain oppressed by the Israeli system) challenge Israel in its fundamentals. They challenge those who suggest that a democracy can exist in an environment where efforts are being undertaken to remove an entire population, and in the meantime subject them to apartheid conditions, and where those who migrate to Israel in search of safety are met with a characterization most appropriate to alien invaders.
Truth be told, it sounds a lot less like democracy and more like ancient Greece or Rome.
(Follow Bill Fletcher Jr. on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.)