Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Saturday evening that he and a team of ministers would examine the possibility of deporting Eritrean migrants who had behaved violently during violent unrest in Tel Aviv the same day.
More than 150 people were injured, including about 15 in serious condition, in violent afternoon clashes in southern Tel Aviv between Eritrean migrants supporting and opposing the government in Asmara. Around 30 police officers were injured.
“The Prime Minister has decided to convene a special ministerial team to examine the possibility of taking action against illegal invaders who took part in the riots, including deportation,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Israel’s right wing largely rejects African migrants’ asylum claims and routinely refers to all migrants, regardless of their motives or circumstances, as “illegal invaders.”
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According to the announcement, the team will meet on Sunday.
Members of Netanyahu’s coalition appeared determined to push through the deportations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on August 27, 2023. (Sraya Diamond/Flash90)
“Israel is a country of law. Those who riot on the streets, destroy shops and attack police officers must be severely punished and immediately deported,” Culture Minister Miki Zohar said in a statement. “Everyone who lives here must respect our laws.”
“Tomorrow morning [there should be] Bus lines to deport them!” Likud MP Nissim Vaturi wrote on X: “This is why reform is necessary!!!”
“Saturday’s unrest was just a foretaste of what awaits us if we do not return the invaders to their home countries,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said in his own statement. “The Supreme Court is responsible for these riots. That’s why we are pushing for changes in the legal system that will allow elected officials to make and implement decisions.”
Eritrean asylum seekers protest against the regime in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin also said the unrest proved why the coalition’s justice reform legislation was necessary.
“We are fighting for the country to become Jewish and democratic, for the right of the residents of South Tel Aviv and Eilat to live a safe life, so that South Tel Aviv does not turn into the Wild West,” he said in one Explanation. At the same time, he referred to previous Supreme Court decisions that had prohibited the government from detaining asylum seekers for long periods without trial.
Successive Israeli governments have resented asylum seekers and face an uncertain future, as the state has only recognized refugee status in a tiny number of cases and has made persistent efforts to make their lives difficult or to deport them outright.
Government and Knesset efforts to force migrants to be deported have been repeatedly rejected or restricted by the Supreme Court, which said a solution must be found in line with international norms.
The issue is often cited by supporters of the government’s judicial reform as an example of judicial overreach in defiance of public will, while opponents of the reform cite the same decisions as evidence of the court’s key role in protecting human rights.
Supporters of the government’s law reform say migrants are a key reason the plan needs to be implemented.
In 2018, Netanyahu, then also prime minister, announced a landmark agreement with the United Nations to relocate abroad at least half of African migrants seeking asylum in his country, but suspended the move within hours and later canceled it After strong criticism from the United Nations, it is correct that I agreed to leave some left.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote on X on Saturday: “This government has promised to deal with the immigration crisis. As usual with them, the situation only got worse and chaos reigns. We dealt with it calmly and without making major statements and recognized the complexity of the problem.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a Knesset Law and Justice Committee hearing on the “adequacy” law on July 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
“This government is not working. After his departure, we will bring back to the table the UN deal that Netanyahu accepted and then canceled due to pressure from the “base”. This will divert most migrant workers from South Tel Aviv who are not in a life-threatening situation.”
Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition National Unity Party, said in a statement: “What happened on the streets of Tel Aviv today is not a legitimate protest, but serious violence.”
“The law must be enforced against the rioters, order must be restored and lessons must be learned from this event and the general failure of the current government.” All of this must be done without forgetting the need to adopt a policy formulate a solution that addresses the problem of asylum seekers in the long term.”
Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry’s Internal Police Investigations Division announced Saturday evening it would investigate police use of live ammunition in some cases during Saturday’s clashes.
Police argue that officers who did so feared for their lives, in what appeared to be the first time live fire had been used against protesters in Israel since mass unrest in the Arab community in October 2000.
Police Chief Kobi Shabtai expressed support for officers’ conduct during the unrest and promised that lawyers will be provided to any police officers confronted by investigators. Shabtai also supported Tel Aviv district chief Peretz Amar over allegations that he mishandled the unrest.
More than 150 people were injured in Saturday’s protests outside the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv as clashes broke out between supporters and opponents of the authoritarian regime in Asmara.
Eritrean protesters clash with Israeli riot police in Tel Aviv on September 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
The chaos erupted during a demonstration against an official Eritrean government event marking the 30th anniversary of President Isaias Afwerki’s coming to power. Opponents of the regime dressed in blue came to the scene to demonstrate against supporters dressed in red. The rallies soon turned into violent clashes that lasted several hours.
The violence represented a “violation of all the norms we allow,” said police chief Haim Bublil, Yarkon district chief. “And a situation arose where we had to use significant resources, including live fire from police officers.”
In the past, there have been outbreaks of violence within the Eritrean migrant community between those who support the regime in their homeland and those who oppose it.
In 2019, a regime supporter in Tel Aviv was stabbed and beaten to death by three other members of the Eritrean community.
According to Channel 12, around 17,000 Eritrean nationals live in Israel.
Last month, as Eritrea celebrated 30 years of independence, celebrations of the Eritrean diaspora in Europe and North America were attacked by exiles. The Eritrean government described them as “asylum scum.”
People who have fled the Horn of Africa country say the violence against the festivals was a protest against a repressive government dubbed the “North Korea of Africa.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Eritrea over the years, many to the deserts of Sudan and then to North Africa. Many are trying to find safety in Europe, while thousands have arrived in Israel.
A police car was damaged by rioting Eritrean asylum seekers during an anti-regime protest in Tel Aviv on September 2, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Afwerki, 77, has led Eritrea since it gained independence from Ethiopia in a long guerrilla war. There are no elections, no free press and exit visas are required.
Many young people are being forced into military service with no end date, human rights groups and United Nations experts say.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.