The African migrants crossing illegally into Israel from Egypt are seeking refuge from oppression back home but have been left in a legal limbo by Israeli authorities who refrain from deporting them but won’t grant work permits or residency status.
"It's hard for the Israeli government because of our Jewish guilty DNA and considerations of public diplomacy to put illegal Africans on planes," says Mitchell Barak, an Israeli public opinion expert. "There is a debate raging here like ones raging elsewhere, like Mexicans in the US. We want to have compassion, but at a certain point our compassion is detrimental to our own well being due to the high numbers" of African migrants, he says.
The municipality estimates there are 60,000 Africans residing in a city with a population of about 400,000. That statistic, plus the growing calls of south Tel Aviv residents for solutions, has added a new dimension to the debate. Residents of these neighborhoods complain that the government has left them on their own to grapple with a lack of security and a rising crime rate.
In recent weeks, an attack in which two Africans were accused of raping an Israeli minor, as well a pair of vigilante attacks on African residences in south Tel Aviv, has kicked up concern about rising tensions.
The frustration of south Tel Aviv residents is compounded by decades of ethnic bitterness among the working-class Middle Eastern Jews toward the liberal and more elite European Jews, who are seen as sympathizing with the Africans and ignoring the distress of local Israelis.