Donald Trump’s election as US president has given closeted racists the license they have long sought to openly advocate against Muslims, refugees and people of color.
As progressive Americans strategize on how to defend victims of bigotry, they would be wise to take stock of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already carrying out ethnic cleansing similar to that which Trump has promised to implement.
Two incidents bookending the year capture the zeitgeist of Israel’s war on African refugees in 2016. In January, an African refugee family, whose 1-year-old baby, Kako, had been stabbed in the head, departed Israel after the Netanyahu government refused to help them defer the child’s medical bills.
And in December, the Israeli police station responsible for south Tel Aviv honored May Golan, a leader of anti-African incitement campaigns that, for all intents and purposes, encourage attacks such as the one on baby Kako.
For the past five years, I have been compiling annual lists of the ringleaders in Israel’s war on Africans. My list for 2016 incorporates almost every branch of the Israeli state.
10. Moshe Kaspi, university dean
In February, the dean of an Israeli university gave his students an exam that contained a question which implicitly compared African refugees to rats.
In the test authored and administered by Moshe Kaspi, a dean at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, engineering students were asked to calculate the cost of removing rodents from the Tel Aviv area, transferring them to a holding center in the south of the country, and then shipping them to Africa, where they would be experimented on.
While the exercise did not explicitly mention African refugees, the analogy would have been obvious to many students, since the scenario it posits closely parallels political developments in Israel. For the last three years, the Israeli government has been rounding up African refugees in the Tel Aviv area and transferring them to a detention center in the south of the country. Following their detention, many of the refugees have been expelled to Africa, just like the rats in Kaspi’s test.
After one woman accused him of racism, Kaspi apologized for the question, claiming that he had intended “to insert an aspect of humor into the exam.”
The incident did not seem to significantly tarnish the reputation of Ben-Gurion University. A few months months later, the college received a $400 million gift, the largest college endowment in Israel’s history.
9. Israel Ziv, security consultant
Israel Ziv’s prior career as an officer in the Israeli military ended just before African refugees began arriving to the country in large numbers a decade ago. But since that time, Ziv has parlayed his army career into a successful business in the private sector with the security consulting firm Global CST.
In that capacity, Ziv has provided services to Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of South Sudan. Kiir is responsible for horrific crimes against his own citizens.
Earlier this month, an Israel Channel 2 video report revealed that Ziv had advised Kiir in an effort to rehabilitate his international reputation. Kiir has come into disrepute for allowing his soldiers to rape women and young girls, in lieu of salary payment, and to castrate and kill young boys.
Israel is a significant supplier of weapons to South Sudan.
According to the Channel 2 report, Ziv hired Ron Prosor, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, as part of his work. One idea considered was that Kiir would make a speech at the UN, flanked by a woman who had been raped by soldiers from South Sudan.
Is it inherently racist of Ziv to want to profit from whitewashing a criminal despot like Kiir? Or did Ziv only take advantage of a global white supremacist system where Black lives matter so little that their mass rapes and castrations can be covered up, guilt free?
Either way, Ziv’s conduct was deplorable.
8. Eliyahu Asulin, rabbi
Hatred for African refugees extends even to their children.
In May, the spouses of foreign ambassadors serving in Israel volunteered to help clean up the outdoor play area of a Tel Aviv nursery for African children. Their aid had become necessary because Israelis had defiled the playground with dead animals, garbage and feces.
Refugee children playing in public parks are regularly harassed. In addition to cursing the kids, their harassers make a show of distributing condoms to African refugees, apparently thinking this is a clever way of saying Africans should not bear children, as long as they live in Israel.
But while ordinary Israeli citizens are trying to shame Africans into foregoing their reproductive rights, leading religious figures have been actually harming the reproductive organs of newborn babies.
In November, it emerged that Israeli circumcisers allow trainees without the necessary experience to practice their cutting techniques on the genitals of black and brown babies.
An exposé by Israel’s new public broadcaster Kan revealed that – for an $11,000 fee – Eliyahu Asulin, a popular rabbi, would allow novices who had not completed their professionally mandated studies to perform circumcisions in his stead on infants from African and Asian families.
Unaware that an undercover journalist was filming him, Asulin urged his new “apprentice” to carry out a circumcision ritual on the son of a Filipino woman. The baby’s mother had been misled as she had only consented to a circumcision undertaken by a professional.
In the video, Asulin describes African babies as “cannon fodder.” He says: “Even if your cut isn’t straight, they won’t say anything, because they don’t understand anything.”
After Asulin’s misconduct was publicly exposed, Israel’s chief rabbinate punished him lightly. Asulin was forbidden from training others for three years, but was still permitted to practice circumcision himself.
7. The Petah Tikva killers
In November, 38-year-old Sudanese asylum-seeker Babikir Adham-Uvdo was beaten to death by two Israeli youths outside of the city hall in Petah Tikva, a town near Tel Aviv. Security camera footage of the incident revealed that the youths beat Adham-Uvdo for more than an hour. He was brought to hospital but never recovered, and was disconnected from life-support systems days later.
Although the killing bore similarities to other attacks on Africans, an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz stated that “people close” to a suspect in the killing believed it was not a racist incident. Relying on those sources, Haaretz suggested that Adham-Uvdo may have been killed because he “made insulting comments to girls.”
Adham-Uvdo was seen walking and then stopping in front of three 16-year-old girls. The girls shouted at him to leave, and within seconds of first encountering them, Adham-Uvdo raised his hands and walked away.
The 16-year-old boy then attacked Adham-Uvdo from behind; another youth soon joined in, kicking Adham-Uvdo as he lay on the ground.
The video footage also shows that paramedics arrived on the scene midway through the beating. In the video, they are seen tending to Adham-Uvdo but, after a short while, leave him to fend for himself, seemingly satisfied that he no longer requires their aid. Within seconds of their departure, the two young men return and continue the beating.
Two persons have been charged in relation to the incident: one is Dennis Barshivatz, a Petah Tikva local, now aged 20; the other is a 16-year-old, whose name has not been published. An Israeli prosecutor has decided to charge the two with manslaughter, rather than murder.
Some observers noted the parallels between the deaths of Adham-Uvdo and Emmett Till. Till was an African-American teenager who was murdered in Mississippi, beaten until he was unrecognizable, ostensibly for flirting with a white woman.
Just three months ago, an Israeli court was told that the Petah Tikvah municipality had hindered African refugees from registering their children for pre-schools in town.
Since the killing of Adham-Uvdo, dozens of African refugees have been arrested in Petah Tikva. The local mayor, Yitzhak Braverman, has approved the arrests.
6. Tal Schwartz, judge
Babikir Adham-Uvdo was the latest, but not the first, African refugee to be lynched in Israel. In October 2015, after a gunman shot and killed an Israeli soldier and wounded about 10 other bystanders in the central bus station complex in Bir al-Saba (Beersheba), a mob of Israelis attacked 29-year-old Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum.
Those who took part in the killing included Israeli soldiers, police officers and a prison warden.
In June this year, an Israeli tribunal ruled that prison warden Hananiya Shabbat would not be charged for beating Zarhum with a bench.
Rather than reprimanding Shabbat, Tal Schwartz, a judge in the tribunal, complimented him. Schwartz stated that Shabbat had “acted in a way that is expected of a prison guard, that which is needed to contribute to the positive image of the prison service.”
5. Zion Amir, lawyer
Amir has represented some of the Israelis accused of firebombing a Palestinian family in the occupied West Bank. Ali Dawabsha, an 18-month-old baby, and his parents were fatally injured in that attack.
So it should come as no surprise that Amir is also defending some of the Israelis charged with the lynching of Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum.
After Amir had been on the job for four months, Haaretz reported that not even one asylum request had been approved. In that time, more than 1,000 asylum requests were rejected.
4. Roni Alsheikh, police chief
In the year he has occupied the post, Roni Alsheikh, head of Israel’s police, has advanced the idea that African refugees are inherently criminal, giving his officers a green light to attack them.
In August, Alsheikh made his anti-African bias explicit when he told a conference of the Israeli Bar Association: “In all criminological studies worldwide, it has been proven that immigrants are more involved in crime than others.”
Alsheikh’s comments drew strong criticism from Israeli citizens of Ethiopian descent. “With one sentence, the police chief has summarized and confirmed all of our complaints [about police racism],” Ethiopian-Israeli activist Inbar Bugala said, according to Haaretz.
Israeli police seem to be especially bothered by communities of color finding common cause in the struggle against Israeli racism.
When Haftom Zarhum was killed by a mob of Israelis in 2015, Bugala wrote on Facebook that a racist lynching had occurred. “Black people have become terrorists – there was no mistaken identification,” she wrote.
Minutes after posting the message, the Israeli police contacted Bugala and demanded that she delete it. The post disappeared from her Facebook page, and though she re-posted it several times, it was taken down after each instance.
3. David Amsalem, lawmaker
While some Israeli officials discriminate against all Africans in equal measure, others advocate opposing policies for Black people, depending on whether the people in question are Jews. Such is the case with David Amsalem, a rookie lawmaker from Likud, the largest party in Israel’s ruling coalition.
Amsalem labors to bring Black Jews to Israel, while working simultaneously to expel Africans who are not Jewish.
In March, when Israeli officials reversed a 2015 decision to facilitate the immigration of 9,000 Falashmura, the extended family members of Ethiopian-Israelis still living in Ethiopia, Amsalem accused the government of racism. “They don’t want to bring Black people to the country from a troubled place,” he said.
In protest, Amsalem refused to vote in favor of government-sponsored legislation, until the Falashmura were allowed to immigrate. The government eventually allowed some Ethiopians to enter Israel. But as punishment for disobeying party discipline, Amsalem was temporarily blocked from proposing laws or speaking in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
As chair of the Knesset’s interior and environment committee, however, Amsalem worked to make the already precarious lives of non-Jewish African refugees much more difficult. In November, Amsalem secured committee approval for an amendment to Israel’s Anti-Infiltration Law which would automatically deposit part of the wages paid to African refugee workers in a fund. The refugees would only be able to access the money taken from them when they leave Israel for good.
Refugee advocacy groups have warned Amsalem that the move would further impoverish African refugees, potentially triggering a humanitarian crisis. In a complaint, the groups wrote: “Asylum seekers are liable to find themselves on the streets, children will go hungry, women may turn to prostitution and more.”
Amsalem casually dismissed these appeals, asserting that Africans should be able to survive on their reduced salaries.
2. Aryeh Deri, interior minister
Ever since Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election as prime minister in 2009, the post of interior minister has been filled by a steady stream of unabashed racists.
Aryeh Deri, the current incumbent, returned to politics in 2012 after a 13-year absence, two of which were spent in prison for corruption. He has developed a reputation for defending Israel’s downtrodden.
Deri’s compassion does not extend to Africans, however. In his first year on the job as interior minister, a post he also held before his downfall, Deri has campaigned with as much enthusiasm as his predecessors to expel African refugees.
In March, Deri told the Knesset’s interior and environment committee that if Israel’s high court won’t permit him to deport African refugees against their will, he would order the construction of an additional facility to imprison them. Since 2013, Israel has held 10,000 African refugees in Holot, a desert detention center.
In April, Deri’s ministry launched an advertising campaign warning Israeli citizens not to hire non-Jewish African refugees, even though a high court ruling allows them to work in Israel.
A week later, the ministry clarified that it would not issue temporary residency visas to the teenage children of African refugees. African teens need these documents because they can be easily mistaken for adults and detained by immigration police who patrol Israel’s cities.
After a migrant rights lawyer appealed against the policy in court, Deri agreed in principle to issue visas for African teens. The lawyer who challenged the policy, Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz, has predicted that it may take a long time before Deri’s agreement is implemented.
In September, a Jerusalem tribunal ruled that fleeing forced service in the Eritrean army can be grounds for refugee status. Determined to deport all Eritreans, who constitute a majority of the African refugees in Israel, Deri protested that the tribunal’s decision would cause “endless trouble” and ordered an immediate appeal.
1. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister
In 2016, Benjamin Netanyahu held five separate cabinet portfolios, as well as the prime minister’s post. He used the powers at his disposal to deport thousands of African refugees. Without question, the worst of these were the powers Netanyahu continues to wield as Israel’s foreign minister.
When the first wave of refugees from war-torn Darfur started to arrive in Israel 10 years ago, the government argued that they couldn’t be trusted to live in the country because they were from Sudan, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
This argument has never made sense, as Darfuri refugees first fled to Israel precisely because they and their families were victims of the Sudanese regime, not supporters of it.
Paradoxically, in September, it emerged that Israel’s foreign ministry has been quietly lobbying the US to forge closer ties with Sudan.
Israel reportedly favored this move because Omar al-Bashir’s government had distanced itself from Iran.
Just two weeks after Netanyahu’s shilling for al-Bashir made news headlines, Amnesty International revealed that the Sudanese leader’s long list of war crimes now also includes the use of chemical weapons in Darfur.
In the past three years, Netanyahu’s government has spent $260 million to round up African refugees and bring them to desert detention centers. Israel has the gall to categorize this massive expenditure as “foreign aid.”
In late September, Netanyahu marked the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah with a self-congratulatory address to members of Likud, summarizing his supposed successes from the previous 12 months. Netanyahu boasted of his efforts to deport African refugees.
“Sixty thousand illegals entered,” he said. “Until today we have already removed 20,000, and we will remove another 20,000. We’ll remove all the illegal aliens because they are illegal, even the ones in southern Tel Aviv.”
Netanyahu has made similar boasts in the past. But what set 2016 apart from previous years was his new willingness to not only point out his anti-African policies to Israelis in Hebrew, but also to proudly announce them in English.
Apparently confident that his efforts would be admired abroad, Netanyahu tweeted in March: “A strong Israel prevents the passage of masses of refugees to Europe. The world would be different if we were not here.”
In a year-end opinion piece, the editorial board of Haaretz stated that Netanyahu “should be ashamed,” adding, “Israel can and must accept the 40,000 Africans living here today, along with the 6,000 children who were born here.”
For the eight years that the United States was led by a president of African descent, Netanyahu felt no need to rein in Israel’s war on Africans. Now that Donald Trump, the darling of white supremacists, has been elected to the Oval Office, we can only expect Netanyahu to ramp it up into an even higher gear.
David Sheen is an independent writer and filmmaker.