The Israeli prime minister has said he wants Eritreans involved in a violent clash in Tel Aviv to be deported immediately and has ordered a plan to remove all of the country’s African asylum seekers.
The remarks on Sunday followed bloody protests by rival groups of Eritreans in south Tel Aviv the day before that left dozens of people injured. Eritreans, supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government, faced off with construction lumber, pieces of metal and rocks, smashing shop windows and police cars. Israeli police in riot gear fired teargas, stun grenades and live rounds while officers on horseback tried to control the protesters.
The issue of immigration from Africa has long divided Israel and its resurgence comes as the country is torn over Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan, and supporters cite the issue as a reason why the courts should be reined in, saying they have stood in the way of pushing people out.
“We want harsh measures against the rioters, including the immediate deportation of those who took part,” the prime minister said in a special ministerial meeting called to deal with the aftermath of the violence. Netanyahu requested his ministers present him with plans “for the removal of all the other illegal infiltrators”, and noted in his remarks that the supreme court struck down some measures meant to coerce people to leave.
About 25,000 African asylum seekers live in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who say they fled conflict or repression. Israel recognises very few as asylum seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them.
The country has tried a variety of tactics to force them out, including sending some to a remote prison, holding part of their wages until after they agree to leave Israel, or offering cash payments to those who agree to move to another country, somewhere in Africa.
Critics accuse the government of trying to coerce people into leaving. Under international law, Israel cannot forcibly send them back to a country where their life or liberty may be at risk.
Netanyahu said on Sunday he did not think deporting supporters of the Eritrean government would be a problem.
Supporters of the asylum seekers say Israel, a country founded upon the ashes of the Holocaust and built up by Jewish refugees, should welcome them. Opponents claim the asylum seekers have brought crime to the low-income southern Tel Aviv neighbourhoods where they have settled.
The clashes came as Eritrean government supporters marked the 30th anniversary of the current ruler’s rise to power, an event held near the Eritrean embassy in south Tel Aviv. Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records and those who have travelled to Israel and elsewhere say they fear death if they were to return.
Critics see Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan as a power grab meant to weaken the courts and limit judicial oversight on government decisions and legislation. Supporters say it is meant to restore power to elected legislators and rein in what they say is an interventionist and liberal-leaning justice system.