The Dark Side of Creative Activism - Sudanese Refugees in Tel Aviv 1 Favorite 


Jun 12 2011


Tel Aviv, Israel

Unfortunately, those who struggle for a more equal and democratic society are not the only ones who can make use of creative forms of activism. The following example shows how creative strategies can also be employed by those who have less wholesome intentions in mind.

Since 2007, approximately 55,000 Sudanese and Eritrean nationals have entered Israel in order to seek asylum after fleeing from their countries, where civil-wars and humanitarian crises have made their lives intolerable. Although many of them sought an asylum status under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of the UN, the Israeli government claimed that only few of them were actually eligible for this status. As a result, the vast majority of them couldn't have been legally employed are were denied some basic legal rights. More than 60% of them ended up in the poorest neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, which is one of Israel’s most central and biggest cities.

Obviously, the local population didn’t like their new neighbors all that much, and justifiably so. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their neighborhoods have been neglected by the city’s administration for decades, now their neighborhoods were suddenly filled with tens of thousands of strangers who couldn't speak the language, and who had almost no money at all. As a result,the Israeli population started protesting and demanded that all the Sudanese and Eritreans be deported back to their home countries.

Their demonstrations, however, were often ineffective. In fact, the offshoot of their struggle was quite negative, as many media outlets presented them as a racist mob who wanted to drive out their new neighbors solely because of their skin color.

These developments lead Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, two notoriously racist nationalists and right-wing activists who joined the local population's struggle, decided to devise a more creative way of getting their message across.

In order to expose the hypocrisy of all those who denounced the poor residents of Tel Aviv as racists, Ben-Ari and Ben-Gvir decided to take 50 refugees for a 'fun-day' at one of Tel Aviv's most popular country clubs, where many of the wealthy liked to spend their days. The reaction, as expected, was not a positive one. Those who had no problem denouncing the residents of the poorer neighborhoods as unenlightened racists didn't welcome the refugees with open arms when they showed up on their own doorstep. This event was quickly reported on various media channels, and has lead many Israelis to sympathize with the poor residents' struggle.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with pointing to the fact that refugees should not be left to their own device in the poorest areas, where people have plenty of problems as it is. Unfortunately, however, many of the people who witnessed the action did not draw the conclusion that the government should help the refugees by offering them to move to other areas where they could find decent employment and sustain themselves without crowding the poorest neighborhoods, but rather concluded that the refugees should be deported back to their home countries.

Posted by Yoav Halperin on