U.S. Jewish groups condemn anti-African violence in Tel Aviv

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups called on Israel to protect African migrants in Israel after riots in Tel Aviv.

"We hope and expect that the authorities will take effective measures to protect this population from further violence and that legitimate requests by refugees to remain in Israel based on fear of persecution in their home countries will be considered humanely and with due process taking into account internationally accepted norms," Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the community’s public policy umbrella, said in a statement on Thursday.

Wednesday night’s violent riots in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood ended with 17 arrests. The violence followed a rally against the presence of the migrants.

Africans who passed by the rally were attacked. Rioters smashed the windshield of a car carrying three migrants as well as other car windows. The rioters 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.

The Anti-Defamation League said it was  "seriously concerned about the growing tensions in Israel over the issue of African migrants, and reports of lawlessness and violence committed by and directed against the migrants."

"While we recognize the complexity involved in properly addressing this issue, and sympathize with Israeli citizens whose personal security has been compromised by the lawlessness and violence of some migrants, we are disturbed by inflammatory public statements made by certain Israeli officials, some of which has veered into racism," the ADL statement said. "It is imperative that reasonable solutions be found to confront these challenges, one that humanly treats the migrants while ensuring the security concerns of Israeli citizens are properly addressed."

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism condemned the violence.

"Such violence has no place in any civilized society, much less Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people who have throughout history known similar horrors rooted in ethnic and religious differences," the RAC’s director, Rabbi David Saperstein, said in a statement. "It is shameful that yesterday’s rally instead devolved into chaos and brutality. It is also shameful that members of the Knesset made inflammatory statements that likely contributed to an atmosphere conducive to such violence."

The Jewish Federations of North America said it was "saddened" by the violence.

“Jewish Federations are saddened and concerned over growing tensions and violence directed at foreign workers in Israel,” said Kathy Manning, the chairwoman of the JFNA board of trustees. “While voicing concerns over the appropriate enforcement of immigration policy and rising violence may be legitimate, we deplore expressions of racism, the stereotyping of population groups and, of course, all violence.”

All four groups welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s condemnation of the violence.

Americans for Peace Now cast the events in the context of what it said was the devaluation of democratic values in Israel. 

"The ongoing dehumanization of African migrants, legal or illegal, is just the latest symptom of the erosion of democratic values inside Israel," it said in an unsigned blog post.  "It is part and parcel of the growing intolerance and dehumanization aimed at the Israeli left, at organizations working for human and civil rights, and at the longstanding dehumanization of Palestinians, both Israeli citizens and those living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza."

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