Monday, May 21, 2018

Dark Clouds Over The White City

 http://www.citylab.com; May 9, 2018


Hello Everyone:

It is a rather May gray day Monday in Blogger Land.  Headline news: Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Prince Harry--Prince Harry and his lovely bride Meghan Markle.  Yours Truly got up at the ungodly hour of 3:00am to watch the royal wedding that had all the feels.  Major kudos to the most Reverand Michael B. Curry, the head of the American Espicopal Church, for his rafter shaking Sunday church sermon that rattled those poker faced royals.  Musically, Blogger loved the gospel choir and cello soloist Sheku Kennah-Mason.  Brilliant.  If there is one thing the British royals know how to do, it is pomp and pageantry.  Good luck and a lifetime of happiness to the newlyweds.  Now for some non-wedding news.

Last Thursday marked the one year anniversary of the special counsel's investigation.  So far, there have been several indictments and plea bargains with the possibility of more to come.  Today, Rudolph Guiliani, one of the president's lawyers, told the New York Times that Robert Mueller and his team would wrap the major part of the investigation by September 1, 2018.  This might be true because it is Department of Justice policy not to begin any investigation or announce any findings that might influence an election.  Apparently former FBI director James Comey ignored this George W. Bush-era policy when he announced he was re-opening the Clinton email investigation mere days before the general elections. Blogger's own thoughts, it is possible that the special counsel will wrap up the major portion of their probe by September 1 but buckle your seatbelts and prepare for major turbulence.  Next, in a series of tweets, Mr. Trump demanded an investigation into whether the Obama administration ordered the FBI to infiltrate his campaign for political purposes.  The Bureau responded that it would include the president's request as part of the Inspector General's investigation.  On to today's subject.

On deck today is immigration.  This is an immigration story of a different sort.  What makes this story different is: The story takes place in Israel not the United States and the immigrants are African, not Latino.  Miriam Berger reports in her CityLab article "The Other Side of Israel's 'White City,'" "...estimated 60,000 African asylum seekers--mainly from Eritrea and Sudan--...crossed into Israek between 2006 and 2012.  Migration has effectively halted since."  Towards the end of 2013, the Israeli government began rounding up the migrants and housing them in an open-air detention center in Holot, with the intention of encouraging the migrants to leave the country.  The detention center was finally closed this past March (timesofisrael.com; Mar. 12, 2018; date accessed May 21, 2018) as the government sped up their now defunct plan to deport the African migrants to Rwanda and Uganda.  Israel's construction of a fence along its border with Egypt's Sinai Peninusala also curtailed migration during the same period.  Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu borrowed a page out of the European and American populist politician handbook with his "pledge to deport (vox.com; Mar. 6, 2018; date accessed May 21, 2018) the asylum seekers, who are classified under Israeli law as illegal 'infiltrators,' while human rights groups argue that they are simply refugees."

Politicians, like Mr. Netanyahu, blame the south Tel Aviv's reputation for poverty, crime, and assorted vice on the African community.  During the migration period, asylum seekers, arriving in Tel Aviv were typically picked up by authorities, and placed on a bus to Levinsky Park (theguardian.com; May 29 2012; date accessed May 21, 2018) in the economically delibitated southern part of the city.  However, Tel Aviv's urban landscape belies a more complicate story of the city's character, the instruments of migration, gentrification, and who gets to live in Israel's largest city.

Miriam Berger writes, "Tel Aviv is known as the 'White City' because it's 1930s Bauhaus style buildings, mostly designed by Jewish architects from Germany who escaped Nazi rule for what was then the British Mandate of Palestine."  Architect and city historian Sharon Rothbard posits in his book (mitpress.mit.edu; Aug. 26, 2015; date accessed May 21, 2018), White City, Black City, "...that this narrative only tells half the story."  Prior to Israel's founding in 1948, southern Tel Aviv was part of the majority Palestinian municipality of Jaffa.  Mr. Rothbard characterizes similar areas as, Black City "because of their long history of institutional neglect and marginalization.  Mr. Rothbard told CityLab,

From the very definition of the White City, all the other places to do to make it into the story and definition of Tel Aviv,...

Neve Sha'anan ("tranquil abode" in Hebrew) serves as the epicenter of the African community.  The neighborhood was founded by Jewish immigrants in the 1920 and laid out in the shape of menorah.

From the beginning, Neve Sha'anan and southern Tel Aviv has been a gathering place for new immigrants.  In the fifties and sixties, Jews from pre-dominantly Muslim countries, Mizrachim (easterners).  They were followed, in the eighties, by Iraninan Jews.  In the nineties and oughts, Russian and Ethiopian Jews made their home in southern Tel Aviv.  As the Mizrachi, Russian, and other Jewish immigrant began to prosper, they migrated to northern Tel Aviv neighborhoods or other cities in Israel; those who remained witnessed the ongoing deterioration of the neighborhood.

Here is where things get complicated.  The next group of immigrants: Eritreans, Sudanese, Chinese and Filipino workers were not Jewish or eligible for citizenship, "...therefore weren't accepted into the city and Israeli society in the same way."  Thus, by the time migrants like Taj Haroun, an asylum seeker from Darfur in Sudan, arrived in 2008, parts of south Tel Aviv resembled the red light districts of Amsterdam. Mr. Haroun's description for the area known for rampant drug use and prostitution.  Ms. Berger writes, "He rejects the accusation of politicians like Netanyahu that the Africans were the cause of the problems in the area."  He told CityLab,

[Because] we are the vulnerable people with no one to protect us, we became the scapegoat,.... You can understand from the beginning that the plan of the government was to send everyone to south Tel Aviv because south Tel Aviv is considered the backend.  They have no responsibility, they don't have to take care anyone.

Shula Keshet, a long-time resident of Neve Sha'anan and community leader, finds an affinity with the African community's struggle and her own as a Mizrachi Israeli.  She told CityLab,

The Mizrachi families are pretty much oppressed in all areas of life.

Ms. Keshet said, "While the founders of Israel were largely Ashkenazi, or white Jews from Europe, the Mizrachim who came from Middle Eastern countries in the decades after faced considerabl institutional discrimination,...."  The continuing tension has played out on the neglected streets of South Tel Aviv.  Ms. Keshet continued

All of this is to deport people from here.  Not only the asylum seekers but also the Mizrachi families,.... The real estate here is worth billions, but [only] for the ones waiting for the deportation of asylum seekers and Mizrachi families... It's a real process of very cruel gentrification combined with racism against black people and racism against Mizrachi families,....

Shula Keshet's chief opponent in this debate is Shafi Paz, a resident of the nearby Shapiro neighborhood and the leader of a small but well financed and vocal campaign that supports deporting the Africans from not only south Tel Aviv but the whole of Israel.

Ms. Paz, an Ashkenazi, has lived in south Tel Aviv for several decades.  She has argued "that Israel needs to take of south Tel Aviv's own struggling Jewish residents before any outsiders."  To make her point, Ms. Paz has organized rallies and headed campaigns aimed at the Eritrean and Sudanese communities, insisting that "they're dangerous and the cause of south Tel Aviv's troubles."

Shafi Paz's rhetoric has found a nationwide audience, riding the wave of growing religious nationalist populism.  In the meantime, Benjamin Netanyahu is still the head of Israel's majority right wing coalition government and remains popular among his base despite several corruption cases swirling about him.  Last summer, Mr. Netanyahu toured south Tel Aviv, promising "its Israeli residents that the government would give back the area."  Some of the area's Mizrachi residents like Ms. Keshet "see the neighborhood's issues as ones of intersecting interests, a core  part of Netanyahu's base are Mizrachi Jews who want the governmentK to now  prioritize them."

One thing that everyone agrees on is the central bus station (99percentvisible.org; Mar. 29, 2016; May 21, 2018) in Neve Sha'anan is a big part of the problem that the government has so far ignored.  Intended to be the one of the biggest bus stations in the world when construction began in the sixties, the large labrythianian state did not open until the nineties.  Miriam Berger describes it, "Today, it's many dark corners make it a hub for crime; it also hosts clinics for asylum seekers and drug users, another the two communities stay nearby."

Ivry Baumgarten, a transplant from Jerusalem currently trying to redevelop Neve Sha'anan said, Good planning is the solution for every city.  Ivry Baumgarten posits, "that the central bus station should be dispersed among several smaller across Tel Aviv that the traffic isn't centered in the south."

Right now African asylum seekers are finding more of their spaces coming under close scurtiny as government policies, including forced detention and deportation, try to move them out. Neve Sha'anan streets are lined with Eritrean and Sudanese businesses serving the community but not frequented by Israelis.

Shula Keshet's has a vision for improving Neve Sha'anan regardless of how developers in the future.  She told CityLab,

Build Mizrachi and multicultural centers, stop the gentrification, close the central bus station.... Instead of spending billions in Holot, put the money to rehabilitate shout Tel Aviv for the residents of south Tel Aviv and the people who are homeless.