Asylum-Seekers, or ‘Infiltrators’? Israel’s Identity Crisis Leaves African Migrants in Limbo

Asylum-Seekers, or ‘Infiltrators’? Israel’s Identity Crisis Leaves African Migrants in Limbo
African migrants cross a street in southern Tel Aviv, Israel, April 3, 2018 (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

TEL AVIV—This free-spirited coastal city, known for its vibrant nightlife and liberal politics, often seems so different from the rest of Israel that many call it “the State of Tel Aviv.” Yet the different parts of Tel Aviv also offer stark contrasts, especially between the wealthier north and the downtrodden south.

In the north, chic cafes, shops, bars and restaurants abut tidy, well-groomed sidewalks lined with trees and flowers. In the south, crumbling buildings face sidewalks covered with garbage and entire blocks that smell like urine.

In addition to this aesthetic fault line, in recent years a new political fault line between “the two Tel Avivs” has emerged, this one over the government’s treatment of asylum-seekers, in particular those from African countries. In the wealthier northern half of the city, asylum-seekers are rarely seen, yet signs of support for them are seemingly everywhere. “Stop deportation!” proclaims a poster at the entrance to a bohemian cafe. A flyer on the window of a hip bar echoes that call with a biblical reference: “You will love the stranger because you were once strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

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