More than half of Jewish Israelis polled in May agreed that Africans living illegally in Israel are “a cancer in the body” of the country, backing the controversial words of an Israeli lawmaker.
The new poll from the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University is a sign of how deep the backlash against African migrants goes in Israel, a country founded by refugees that has seen angry and sometimes violent resistance to the new influx from Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere in Africa.
The Times’ Edmund Sanders has recently reported on a string of attacks and harassment against migrants such as 60-year-old Berhun Gergrehra, a former Eritrean soldier:
Leaning against the charred remains of his fence, Gergrehra said the recent attack was the second time his house had been firebombed in a year.
"We're thinking about leaving," he said. "This country just won't accept us."
Though the attacks spurred outcry against racism and xenophobia in Israel, the new poll showed strong support for the recent Tel Aviv protests against African immigrants, with more than four out of five Jewish Israelis saying they backed the demonstrations.
Perhaps even more strikingly, more than a third said they could identify with the violence that followed, as angry mobs smashed store windows and attacked a car carrying Africans. The researchers called the number surprisingly high, "considering that most people do not tend to openly report sympathy for acts that are broadly condemned by society." More religious Israelis were more likely to sympathize.
Six hundred Israelis were polled, including Arab Israelis, who were much less likely to object to the African immigrants. Only 19% of Arab Israelis agreed that African illegal immigrants were a "cancer" and only 25% backed the Tel Aviv protests against them.
Other findings from the new poll included:
- Though disdain for refugees might seem to result from daily friction with foreigners, most of the Jewish Israelis who were polled said there were few refugees where they lived or none at all.
- While more than half of Jewish Israelis were tolerant of foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Thailand or the Philippines, nearly three out of four said they were disturbed by Sudanese or Eritrean workers.
- Among both Jewish and Arab Israelis, strong majorities oppose the idea of an open-door policy toward refugees who were persecuted in their countries of origin.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: An African woman from Eritrea walks by Hebrew graffiti that says "Get out of the neighborhood" in Jerusalem. Credit: Abir Sultan / European Pressphoto Agency