After violent clashes between Eritrean migrants in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he wants those involved to be deported immediately and has ordered a plan to remove all of the country’s African migrants.
Bloody protests by rival groups of Eritreans in Israel's capital left dozens of people injured Saturday. 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, and 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 also 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 Sunday he didn’t think deporting supporters of the Eritrean government would be a problem.
About 25,000 African migrants live in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who say they 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. Critics accuse the government of trying to coerce the migrants into leaving.
Migrants’ 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 southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods 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.