When Senator Barack Obama visited the Israeli town of Sderot, as part of his presidential election campaign in June 2008, he received an enthusiastic welcome despite the fact that his father was from Kenya.
But migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers from African countries arriving in the town today receive a very different welcome, as local rabbi Ariel Bareli works to drive them away.
Journalist and videographer David Sheen caught Bareli on video explaining his tactics “to convince people to not rent them apartments.”
Proud to have shut down church, community center
“We pressured people in various ways, talking to people in the community,” Bareli said, “and we patrolled to try to make things hard for them.”
“We had a battle here when they began to create communal institutions, and especially a church and a community center,” Bareli added. “We fought against it, and eventually the Sderot city council shut the place down.”
“It’s very important to me that in Sderot the people in my community won’t have to deal with Sudanese people who pray in churches, because that’s how Sderot begins to change.”
Bareli, who said he has lived in Sderot for 15 years, identified himself as the rabbi of a synagogue called “Demanding Good.”
Bareli’s anti-African campaign is reminiscent of a call by hundreds of Israel’s state-financed rabbis urging landlords in cities across the country to refuse to rent homes to Palestinian citizens of Israel.
It also comes amid an intensified atmosphere of racism and incitement against Africans encouraged by top Israeli government officials and politicians.
Defending Jewish supremacy
Bareli defended the idea of Israel being a “Jewish state” in which one group has superior rights.
“If we blur this message and say this is a country for all its citizens,” he warned, “and the other automatically becomes a citizen with equal rights, and you don’t have any special privileges just because you are a Jew, unfortunately, in moral terms, that’s like scoring a goal against your own team.”
“Why bother fighting … killing people?” asks the Israeli rabbi, in defense of inferior rights for non-Jews.
Bareli accused Sudanese people in particular of causing a “demographic problem” and urged the government to pay them to leave the country.
Following the success of his anti-African campaign in Sderot, Bareli is now moving to Tel Aviv to set up a similar effort there, which was inaugurated by Israel’s deputy minister for religious affairs.
Background: Sderot in Israeli propaganda
Sderot is a small town in present-day Israel located a few miles from Gaza. It has featured prominently in Israeli propaganda in recent years, due to the frequency with which it was hit by rockets, fired at Israel by resistance groups in Gaza, resulting in several deaths and injuries of Israeli noncombatants as well as property damage over the years.
Palestinian resistance groups have said that the rocket fire was aimed at deterring frequent Israeli attacks on the civilian population in Gaza.
However, the 2009 UN-commissioned Goldstone report found that because the rockets are “uncontrolled and uncontrollable,” their firing amounts to “the commission of an indiscriminate attack on the civilian population … a war crime, and may amount to crimes against humanity.”
Obama’s 2008 visit came as Sderot became an obligatory stop for politicians to declare limitless sympathy and support for Israel, while ignoring the utter devastation and mass killing regularly wrought by Israel in Gaza just a few short miles away, usually when Israel breached an effective ceasefire.