JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried violence against African migrants following a night of violent protest.
"There is no place for either the expressions or the actions that we witnessed last night," Netanyahu said Thursday, a day after a demonstration in south Tel Aviv against illegal African migrants turned violent. "I say this to the public at large as well as to the residents of south Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand."
Netanyahu said the problem of the infiltrators would be solved.
"We will complete construction of the fence within a few months and we will soon begin repatriating infiltrators back to their countries of origin," he said.
Wednesday night’s violent protest in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, involving about 1,000 protesters, ended with 17 arrests.
Protesters attacked African migrants who passed the demonstration, and smashed the windshield of a car carrying three migrants as well as other car windows. They also set trash bins on fire and threw firecrackers at police, Ynet reported. The rioters also broke into and looted shops associated with the African migrant community.
Meanwhile, the head of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, called on Israel’s attorney general to investigate three Israeli lawmakers who he said incited violence and racism during their speeches at the protest.
The lawmakers who participated in the protest were Miri Regev and Danny Danon of the Likud Party and Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union Party. Regev, for example, called the Sudanese "a cancer."
The Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported Thursday that the Public Security Ministry is considering deploying Border Guard troops in south Tel Aviv to prevent problems between residents and African migrants, and to fight crime associated with the migrants.
Israel’s Justice Ministry announced Wednesday that migrant workers from South Sudan could be returned to their country after it is established that they are not eligible for political asylum.
More than 50,000 African migrants and asylum seekers are living in Tel Aviv alone, according to government reports. Most entered through the border with Sinai.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said that the surge of illegal African migrants into Israel "threatens national security and identity." Last week, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Army Radio that most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity and should be imprisoned and deported to their countries of origin.