‘Trampled under the boots of the right-wing’: Israeli PM Netanyahu cancels UN deal to resettle African migrants

He announced on Monday that he agreed to cancel the planned expulsion of thousands of asylum seekers, but just hours later he put it on hold and then finally scrapped it altogether

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 8:44pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to cancel a deal with the United Nations to resettle African migrants in Western nations.

After meeting with angry residents of south Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he reconsidered after hearing their concerns. Netanyahu faced heavy criticism from nationalist allies, even within his own ruling Likud party.

Netanyahu had announced on national television on Monday that Israel had agreed to cancel the planned expulsion of tens of thousands of African migrants. Under the deal, roughly half of the 35,000 migrants living in Israel would be resettled in the West. But the rest would stay in Israel. But just hours later he reversed course, saying he was putting it on hold.

The issue has divided Israel for a decade and drawn fierce criticism.

Dozens of migrants and their Israeli supporters protested the prime minister’s decision to shelve the deal, gathering outside his office in Jerusalem and government offices in Tel Aviv.

Some protesters stripped to the waist, draped themselves with chains and taped their mouths shut at a protest in Tel Aviv. Others waved signs reading “Human lives are not to play with. Yes to the deal”.

Protester Daniella Elyashar called on Netanyahu to “stop this political game”. Another protester, Veronika Cohen, said “yesterday we were in tears of joy and this morning just in tears”.

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Meanwhile, hardliners in Netanyahu’s coalition strongly criticised the deal for allowing thousands of Africans to remain after the prime minister announced it.

Before Netanyahu announced he was scrapping the deal, Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay slammed the sudden turnaround on Army Radio questioning if defence decisions are also made in the same manner.

“It is sad, troubling and even a little scary that decisions are made that way,” Gabbay said. He accused Netanyahu of leadership based on polls and comments on social media.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, earlier welcomed the move calling the deal “very dangerous” for Israel. He said it would “turn Israel into a paradise for whoever succeeds in infiltrating it” and called on Netanyahu to cancel it completely.

Israeli commentators, meanwhile, slammed Netanyahu for folding to pressure.

Writing in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Sima Kadmon noted Netanyahu’s decision “lasted for just six hours and 45 minutes” before “an important and courageous decision by the prime minister was trampled under the boots of the right-wing divisions”.

Most of the African migrants are from war-torn Sudan and Eritrea, the latter having one of the world’s worst human rights records. The migrants say they are asylum seekers fleeing danger and persecution, while Israeli leaders have claimed they are merely jobseekers.

The Africans started arriving in 2005 after neighbouring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border with Egypt before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

Thousands of African migrants are concentrated in neighbourhoods in south Tel Aviv, where ethnic food shops and phone card stalls line the streets, and the area has become known as “Little Africa.” This has sparked tension with the working-class Jewish residents who have been putting pressure on the government to find a solution.