The battle over "illegal" (or, "undocumented," if you prefer) immigrants is heating up in Israel.
The Netanyahu government has ramped up its rhetoric and drawn its battle-lines in preparation for deporting most of the 38,000-plus Africans currently in the country.
Some 20,000 residents of Tel Aviv (where most of the immigrants are living) took to the streets over the weekend to protest the government's policies.
Holding signs reading "Refugees Do Not Deport Refugees," the demonstrators sought to remind the Jewish people of their own history of exile. But similar protests held by the other side of the argument have highlighted the differences in those situations–namely that the African migrant to South Tel Aviv has brought with it an unprecedented rise in crime and sexual assault.
The situation is complicated. Israel has stated unequivocally that it won't deport genuine asylum-seekers, such as black Christians from Sudan who face almost certain death if returned to the hands of their Arab Muslim oppressors.
But most of the Africans squatting in South Tel Aviv are from Eritrea. And that's a trickier case. Eritrea is without question an oppressive dictatorship. However, unlike the situation in Darfur, Eritreans are not being ethnically-cleansed, they aren't facing imminent death.
Most Eritreans are running away from compulsory military service (which, of course, exists in Israel, too), restrictive laws governing religious worship and harsh economic conditions. Because these issues do not put them at the same level as those fleeing Darfur, some European nations have stopped classifying most Eritreans as "refugees" or "asylum-seekers," and instead view them as economic migrants.
Israel has taken a similar approach, meaning most of the Eritreans in Israel are currently slated for eventual deportation to a third country, such as Rwanda.
PHOTO: Israelis join African migrants in protesting their deportation in Tel Aviv on Saturday. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)