Posts Tagged Omar Bashir
It is hard to put into words what I feel about the events in the South Tel Aviv suburb yesterday with the bitterly ironic name of Hatikvah. That said, putting things into words is what I do. So here goes.
I’ll begin with someone else’s words: Ha’aretz journalist Ilan Lior, who was actually there and watched the whole thing play out. Here is how he described it:
I have been a journalist for ten years. I’ve covered terror attacks, funerals, car accidents, and protests. I’ve seen fury, frustration, despair, and sadness in a variety of places and forms. But I’ve never seen such hatred as it was displayed on Wednesday night in the Hatikva neighborhood. If it weren’t for the police presence, it would have ended in lynching. I have no doubt. Perhaps a migrant worker would have been murdered, perhaps an asylum seeker, or maybe just a passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Israel’s asylum seeker problem
I have written in the past on how Israel provides its African asylum seekers with a safe haven that is unmatched by any other country that side of Europe, but also that they still face difficulties. The situation that they find themselves in is depicted very well in this piece by Daniella Cheslow and I recommend clicking through and reading it, but in essence: Israel has no policy.
Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing for Israel over the past decade, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea. The horrors that they face at home and during the journey do not bear thinking about. Amongst other things, they are hunted for their ethnicity, quite literally shot on sight by Egyptian forces, and often abducted by Sinai Bedoins, held to ransom and then tortured to death when they can’t pay (African refugees do not tend to have a lot of money).
After weeks of travelling through harsh deserts, often on foot, they cross the border into Israel – where they are greeted by the Israeli border guards, given food and medical attention, taken to a detention centre in South Israel so that Israel can figure out who they are, and then given a one-way bus ticket to Tel Aviv.
That is the end of Israel’s plan for them. They arrive in Tel Aviv with absolutely nothing – no working visa, no knowledge of Hebrew, no friends, no family, no support network. There are now 60,000 of them – almost 1% of Israel’s entire population – and the Israeli government has had no policy at all to deal with the issue. For reasons outlined here by Shallya Scher-Ehrlich, this is in breach of international law.
What happens next is quite obvious: they serve the same functions as large groups of illegal migrants anywhere else. They work in below-minimum-wage jobs for people unscrupulous enough to employ them in these conditions, they live in crowded accommodation in the poorest neighbourhoods and, out of desperation and because criminal gangs are one group that do not exclude them for the colour of their skin, they often become involved in crime (although reports of them massively increasing crime rates are highly exaggerated).
The areas that they moved into were previously (and in some cases still are) the ones predominantly inhabited by Israel’s other marginalised groups – Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and from Ethiopia, or ‘Mizrachim‘. How the old residents have reacted was captured quite well in a profile by Ben Hartman on Sophie Menashe, a Mizrachi Jew who found herself to be the last Jew in a building now inhabited by African migrants:
Despite the descriptions of a gilded past, these neighborhoods were never upscale and had a persistent reputation for being crime-infested. However, the influx of Africans has added racial conflict to the already troubled social dynamic and has left many veteran residents feeling foreign and outnumbered. …
The apartment was once a source of pride for Menashe. …
Over the years, her neighbors grew older and died or moved out, and more and more foreigners moved in; first foreign workers, mainly from West Africa and East Asia, and over the past five or six years, East African migrants and asylum- seekers.
The sentiments that Menashe expressed toward the African migrants left little room for nuance: They carry AIDS and other diseases, are violent drunks and might be part of a plot hatched by the Jewish state’s enemies to flood Israel with African Muslims, creating a demographic threat to bring down the country from within.
Although such views would offend a wide swath of polite Israeli society, they come from a place of fear and frustration, and from long days spent cooped up in her apartment, afraid to step out into a world that has shifted beneath her feet – where Menashe now feels like a stranger.
These tensions have recently started coming to a head, and the government is finally reacting as a result – building a fence along the border to Egypt and building a massive detention centre to house the asylum seekers. In many ways, it seems as though they are taking a leaf out of Australia’s book.
Whatever your views on mandatory detention, one particular leaf that Israel has now taken is unambiguously disgusting, hateful and unjustifiable. That “leaf” is the 2005 Cronulla riots, which in many ways were mirrored by yesterday’s events in Tel Aviv.
I began the post with Ilan Lior’s eyewitness report of the incident and another, by Hagai Matar, can be read here. The worst part is undoubtedly the fact that the crowd was fuelled mostly by Members of the Knesset.
Hatikvah was a riot
Let’s be clear though, while some of these were government MKs, the protest was against the government’s policy. The protesters and the speakers were complaining that the government has not been harsh enough on the refugees. What the parliamentarians said, however, was disgraceful. Lior quotes Michael Ben-Ari, a Kahannist, saying, “there are rapists and harassers here. The time for talk is over.”
Wore still was the quote from Likkud MK Miri Regev, which I feel the need to emphasise in bold:
“The Sudanese are a cancer in our body. All the left-wingers that filed petitions in the Supreme court should be embarrassed – they stopped the expulsion.”
As a few have pointed out, this is precisely the kind of abhorrent, racist rhetoric that Iranian leaders use to refer to Israel and Jews, rightly drawing condemnation from most of the world.
Even worse, it is the kind of language that Sudanese President Omar Bashir uses when he’s busy inciting genocide against the black Africans in his Arab-ruled country. This is precisely what these people fled in the first instance, hoping for a haven in Israel, yet they are met with the same revulsion. It’s sickening.
Even this was not quite the evening’s the low point.
Ben-Ari, Regev and Major Karnage favourite Danny Danon managed to rile the crowd enough that they transformed into a mob and began attacking the journalists mentioned above for being “traitors” and allegedly “throwing rocks at checkpoints” (which, needless to say, both of them deny ever doing).
The mob started chanting “Sudanese to Sudan!” and making their way towards the largely African neighbourhoods. What ensued was beyond harrowing. The mob went around South Tel Aviv, smashing the windows of African-owned businesses, looting African-run shops and attacking passers-by who happened to be black.
I cannot think of any epithets that even approach how repulsive this is. Jews Sans Frontiers, a group with whom I do not often agree, compared it — not unjustifiably — to Kristallnacht. Watching some of the footage, this is exactly what comes to mind:
Danon’s response? Well, he figured that he’d pen an op-ed. This was published in the Jerusalem Post the morning after the riot:
We are at a critical crossroads with a strategic demographic threat developing within our borders that may upend our country’s very character as a Jewish and democratic state. It is nonsensical that such large numbers of illegal infiltrators from Africa are settling permanently in our country and so little is being done to rectify this problem. This is especially highlighted when taking into account that the crime rate among the infiltrators is almost double the rate of that in the general population. The desperately necessary solution is a three-pronged program to end this dangerous phenomenon: stop, arrest and deport.
A threat to Israel’s “character as a Jewish and democratic state”.
The rhetoric that Danon was supporting and that pogrom he incited is exactly the sort of persecution that Israel was created to prevent. The Zionist dream was formed when Jews had to regularly endure this kind of treatment and longed for a place where they would be away from it, where they would be able to live without fear — not a place to import the violent prejudice that plagued the countries from which they fled.
The concept of a “Jewish state” may be difficult to define, but it was definitely not meant in the same way that the Nazis spoke of a “German state”. Whatever some anti-Zionists may choose to believe, Israel was never intended to be a land “cleansed” of non-Jews. It is supposed to be a homeland for the Jewish people, that to some extent embodies Jewish values.
This riot was about as far from Jewish values as anyone can possibly stray. Where is the “light unto the nations” now? Who is “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you?”
It is not the African migrants that are eroding Israel’s Jewish character, it is Danon, Regev and Ben-Ari. They are the cancer that is eating away at Israeli society, propagating this vile racism — not to mention trying to unravel the Constitutional basis for Israel’s democracy.
If there is some hope left to find in Hatikvah, it is in the fact that these MKs did manage to unite the Jewish people — against them. Jewish organisations around the world condemned what happened. Similar for everyone in Israel beyond a handful of extremists.
Even someone like Neil Lazarus — who has literally made his career out of defending everything Israel does — has come out strongly against Israeli racism as a result.
Moreover, the critical voices include members of the Government who are much more important than Danon:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on Wednesday’s violent protests in southern Tel Aviv and made it clear that “there is no room for the actions and expressions witnessed (in Tel Aviv). I’m saying these things to the general population and the residents of southern Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand.”
[Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin said that t]he people “may demonstrate and protest and demand the government formulate a solution, but there should be no incitement – and it is forbidden to use the same tactics anti-Semites used against us [in the Exile].”
“We suffered greatly from incitement and harassment,” Rivlin said. “We must be committed to sensitivity and finding just solutions. The main problem is not the infiltrators and refugees, but the lack of a clear policy from the government of Israel.”
It is important to maintain perspective. As Michael Koplow pointed out, there were only about 1,000 people who attended the rally, and fewer still who actually rioted.
Also, while I did use the word “pogrom”, this is not like the state-sanctioned pogroms that the Jews of Eastern Europe were subjected to. Happily, no one was killed or seriously injured on the night – thanks in no small part to the heroic actions of the Israeli police. Israeli society has overwhelmingly condemned what went on and it has been made clear by the Prime Minister and the President that this kind of thing has no place in Israel.
In that spirit, I strongly believe that the Members of Knesset who were involved in the affair should be forced to resign. What they said and did is absolutely unacceptable and their parties should not countenance that behaviour.
Also, I will be donating money to the African Refugee Development Centre in Tel Aviv, I suggest that you do the same.
I will leave you with some words from Adam Ibrahim, a leader of Israel’s African migrant community:
If you don’t want us here, don’t turn your rage at us, because we have no choice. I have nowhere to go. I just want to live in safety. I agree to be deported to any African country, other than Sudan. I just want to live with dignity, without people talking about the color of my skin, and I want to stop feeling hostility on the streets.
It is important for me to say that we are not a burden on society. We work for less than minimum wage in jobs that Israelis wouldn’t want to do themselves anyway. We pay rent, and make do with organizations that we established ourselves. It is hard for me to hear Eli Yishai’s statements in the media. Their impact on Israelis is tremendous, since in Israel everyone listens to the news.
The state is spreading negative propaganda against us – they say it is unsafe here because of us. I feel that the Jews are doing to us the exact same thing the Germans did to them. Don’t talk nonsense – we are in the 21st century. Don’t talk about skin color, don’t talk about slaves and don’t say that I stink. We want to see a real democracy – not only words.
I know that I will never have equal rights here. I just want to receive the few rights that I do deserve as a refugee.
Last night I promised a post giving background information on Joseph Kony after I explained my doubts regarding the “Stop Kony” campaign. I have to say that I feel entirely vindicated. I am always amazed by people who seem to spend their whole lives not caring about suffering in the world at all suddenly go up in arms because of a 27 minute piece of propaganda, donate a lot of money to a very dubious cause and then go back to sleep. As I suspected, there is much more to the situation than the video let on.
1. The video was bullshit
The best critique of the video itself came from Michael Wilkerson, guest posting on Joshua Keating’s Foreign Policy blog:
Unfortunately, it looks like meddlesome details like where Kony actually is aren’t important enough for Invisible Children to make sure its audience understands. The video, narrated by Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, says its purpose is to intensify pressure on the U.S. government to make sure Kony is brought to justice this year, and as the message broadcast throughout says, what is important is simple: Stop Kony.
Among other emotive shots, the video features Russell’s attempt to explain the LRA to his toddler son, enthusiastic (and mostly white) volunteers putting up posters and wearing Kony 2012 bracelets, and some heart-wrenching footage of children who walked for miles to sleep in a safe place at the height of the LRA’s power in Northern Uganda. The latter comprised much of Invisible Children’s namesake first film and brought the organization to prominence.
But in the new film, Invisible Children has made virtually no effort to inform. Only once, at 15:01 in the movie, over an image of a red blob on a map leaving Northern Uganda and heading West, is the fact that the LRA is no longer in Uganda mentioned, and only in passing.
2. Kony is a useful scapegoat for Ugandan crimes
The video mentioned failed peace talks and blamed Kony for his duplicity in using the talks as cover while he rearmed. This may be true, but there is more to the talks than that. Max Fisher had this to say:
Since the late 1980s, the Ugandan government has tried several times to defeat the LRA or at least compel it to disarm. It even created a senior position dedicated to this cause; the Minister of State for Pacification of Northern Uganda. The first person to hold this office, Betty Bigombe, negotiated directly with Kony, deep-jungle meetings that many of her staffers refused to attend for fear that they would be maimed or killed. But President Museveni squashed Bigombe’s hopeful 1994 peace talks, and others since then. Museveni has good reason to want fighting to continue. He is still unpopular in the north, and the LRA gives him good reason to fill that once rebellious region with his troops. They’ve also given him an opportunity forcibly relocate a number of “vulnerable” northern Ugandans into displacement camps, where he said they might be more easily protected. The LRA’s bloody attacks also provide a rallying point for once-fractured Uganda, a common enemy that keeps everyone in line. Whatever Museveni’s brutalities, the LRA will always be worse.
3. Kony has already been stopped
Has he been captured and brought to justice? No. What the video forgot to mention, however, is that the 30-year long war in Northern Uganda is over and Kony lost. As Wilkerson was getting at, the “moved into other countries” that the video mentioned in passing would be more accurately described as “fled into other countries, with a coalition of African armies hot on his tail”. Kate Collins last October:
The U.S. troop deployment can make a decisive difference. Kony’s forces have been weakened in the past few years, in good part because of the $4.4 million in aid Kampala has received from the Obama administration. Kony now commands fewer than 300 fighters. Putting U.S. boots on the ground will likely lead to the complete collapse of the last remnants of his army.
4. What are you trying to achieve exactly?
Mark Kersten points out that, while military solutions have failed, raising awareness of Kony in the West would not achieve much and the people in his region are already well aware of who he is.
Kony 2012 is about making Joseph Kony, the leader of the notorious LRA, famous because, the line of reasoning goes, if everyone knew him, no one would be able to stand idly by as he waged his brutal campaign of terror against the people of East Africa.
I am actually stupefied that any analysis of the ‘LRA question’ results in the identification of the problem being that “Kony isn’t popular enough”. The reality is that few don’t know who Joseph Kony is in East Africa and the Great Lakes Region, making it all-too-apparent that this isn’t about them, their views or their experiences. But even more puzzling is that Joseph Kony is one of the best known alleged war criminals in the world – including in the United States. This is the case in large part because of the advocacy of Western NGOs, including Invisible Children and the Enough Project as well as the ICC arrest warrants issued against Kony and his senior command.
… In this context, it is worthwhile remembering that massive regional military solutions (Operations Iron Fist and Lightning Thunder most recently), with support from the US, have thus far failed to dismantle or “stop” the LRA. These failures have created serious and legitimate doubts that the ‘LRA question’ is one that can be resolved by military means.
Why have the military solutions failed? Well, according to Max Fisher, finding Kony is not actually all that easy:
Kony may be barking mad — he performs bizarre rituals and claims to fight for “the Ten Commandments” — but he has survived for two decades, outnumbered and outmatched by every metric, on little more than his ideology and his wits. “Kony is a brilliant tactician & knows the terrain better than anybody. He surrounds himself with scouts who have what amounts to an early warning system, which is how he’s eluded capture for so long,” Morehouse College assistant professor and Central Africa expert Laura Seay warned on twitter. “Kony also operates in some of the least-governed areas of the world’s weakest states. Many of these places have no roads, infrastructure. All of this adds up for a potential mess for US troops, who don’t know the terrain & can’t count on host government troops to be helpful or even to fight. This will not be easy for only 100 US forces to carry out, especially given language barriers.” Seay also points out that Kony uses children as human shield — and as much of his fighting force — making any direct action ethically and morally difficult.
5. Who is really threatening Ugandan children?
So Kony’s days were numbered before you even heard of him and any campaign to assuage your “white man’s burden” guilt by making a lot of noise about him would not change much. That said, there are far worse things happening to Ugandan children every day than living under the (largely abated) threat of the LRA. The people in northern Uganda are largely Acholi, who fought against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the Ugandan civil war and who, therefore, Museveni has a strong interest in controlling.
It took some digging to find, but here is what their own government was doing to the Acholi under the auspice of “protecting” them from Koni. Note: this article was from 2006.
The truth is that reports of indisputable atrocities of the LRA are being employed to mask more serious crimes by the government itself. To keep the eyes of the world averted, the government has carefully scripted a narrative in which the catastrophe in northern Uganda begins with the LRA and will only end with its demise. But, under the cover of the war against these outlaws, an entire society, the Acholi people, has been moved to concentration camps and is being systematically destroyed — physically, culturally, and economically. “Everything Acholi is dying,” declared Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Catholic missionary priest in the region. After his own visit, Ugandan journalist Elias Biryabarema wrote, “Not a single explanation on [E]arth can justify the sickening human catastrophe [of] the degradation, desolation, and the horrors killing off generation after generation.”
… The situation in northern Uganda rivals Darfur in terms of its duration, magnitude, and consequences. For more than a decade, government forces have kept a population of almost 2 million (from the Acholi, Lango, and Teso regions) in some 200 concentration camps, where they face squalor, disease, starvation, and death. Imagine 4,000 people sharing a latrine, women waiting in line for 12 hours to fill a jerrycan at a well, and up to 10 people packing themselves sardine-like into tiny huts.
Ninety-five percent of the Acholi population now resides in these camps. In January 2006, World Vision Uganda reported that 1,000 children are dying each week in the region, one of the worst mortality rates in the world. More recent estimates indicate that number may have climbed to 1,500 deaths a week. In March, a survey by a consortium of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the death rates in the concentration camps are three times those of Darfur.
Angelo Izama had some thoughts on this as well:
To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, it’s portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era. At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.
The crux of it
For those of you that are still with me after about 17,000 words: Joseph Kony’s army, the LRA, is the product of ethnic tensions that still remain following the Ugandan civil war in the early 1980s. It was bolstered by support from the genocidal regime in Sudan, whose president is also wanted for war crimes.
The conflict has been perpetuated partly because Kony is a wiley and effective commander and partly because it suits the Ugandan president to keep the war going in the north as it gives him an excuse to crack down on the Acholi people, who pose a potential threat to his otherwise unchallenged rule.
That said, the height of Koney’s power was between 1994 and 2004. Since then, his army has been crushed and he has been forced to flee Uganda. As of today, he has only a few hundred soldiers left to his name and he is being chased around the Congo rainforest by a force of 4,000 troops from a coalition of African countries, which is supported by US intelligence and special forces instructors.
In short: Kony is no longer a problem. BUT Uganda has huge problems with poverty, AIDS, a government that wants to punish homosexuality by death and a president who has been in power for 28 years with no sign of giving this up any time soon. If you want to help Ugandans, forget Koney and do something about that!