Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he wants Eritrean migrants who were involved in a violent clash in Tel Aviv to be deported immediately - and has ordered a plan to remove all of the country's African migrants.
The remarks came on Sunday, a day after bloody protests by rival groups of Eritreans in southern Tel Aviv left dozens of people injured. Eritreans, supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government, faced off with construction lumber, pieces of metal and rocks, smashing shop windows and police cars. Israeli police in riot gear shot tear gas, stun grenades and live rounds while officers on horseback tried to control the protesters.
The violence on Saturday returned to the fore the issue of migrants, which has long divided Israel. Its resurgence comes as Israel is torn over Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan.
Supporters cite the migrant issue as a reason why the courts should be reined in, saying they have stood in the way of pushing the migrants out.
“We want harsh measures against the rioters, including the immediate deportation of those who took part,” Netanyahu said in a special ministerial meeting called to deal with the aftermath of the violence. He requested that the ministers present him with plans “for the removal of all the other illegal infiltrators,” and noted in his remarks that the Supreme Court struck down some measures meant to coerce the migrants to leave.
Under international law, Israel cannot forcibly send migrants back to a country where their life or liberty may be at risk.
Netanyahu said on Sunday he didn’t think deporting supporters of the Eritrean government would pose a problem.
About 25,000 African migrants live in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, many who have fled conflict or repression. Israel recognizes very few as asylum seekers, seeing them overwhelmingly as economic migrants - and says it has no legal obligation to keep them.
The country has tried a variety of tactics to force them out, including sending some to a remote prison, holding part of their wages until after they agree to leave the country or offering cash payments to those who agree to move to another country, somewhere in Africa.
Migrant supporters say Israel, a country founded upon the ashes of the Holocaust and built up by Jewish refugees, should welcome those seeking asylum. Opponents claim migrants have brought crime to the low-income Tel Aviv neighbourhoods in the south of the city where they have settled.
The clashes came as Eritrean government supporters marked the 30th anniversary of the current ruler’s rise to power, an event held near the Eritrean embassy in south Tel Aviv. Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records and migrants in Israel and elsewhere say they fear death if they were to return.
Critics see Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan as a power grab meant to weaken the courts and limit judicial oversight on government decisions and legislation. Supporters say it is meant to restore power to elected legislators and rein in what they say is an interventionist and liberal-leaning justice system.