A proposal by Israel’s Prime Minister for a negative media campaign to deter potential African migrants surfaced today as three Eritreans were in hospital after their Jerusalem home was torched by arsonists as they slept.
Benjamin Netanyahu has asked information and other officials to explore a possible campaign in sub-Saharan Africa designed to discourage would be illegal migrants from trying to enter Israel through the Sinai desert.
The call, which he made at a meeting to discuss what Israel says are more than 60,000 asylum seekers and other migrants, is meeting strong resistance from the country’s foreign ministry.
One Israeli official said the feasibility study on a media campaign is being led by the National Information Directorate, a unit under the Prime Minister’s Office normally charged with promoting a positive image for Israel.
The possible campaign would stress the –genuinely severe—dangers of rape, kidnap and robbery inflicted on migrants by Bedouin traffickers and others in the Sinai desert, and that Israel is rapidly building a fence along the Egyptian border. Furthermore, migrants will not be allowed to work in Israel, and they face detention for up to three years at a desert detention camp currently under construction.
There are strong doubts that such a campaign will actually materialize, with the Foreign Ministry arguing that two major sources for migration, Eritrea and Sudan, are repressive states without the independent media to carry it.
The official emphasized it was in no way envisaged that any campaign would focus on recent attacks on Africans and their property. But the Foreign Ministry was worried that it could still present a negative image of Israel.
The three Eritreans – among them a badly burned man and his seven month pregnant wife - were being treated in the city’s Hadassah Hospital after arsonists apparently used rags doused with inflammable liquid to set fire at around 3am to their two room home in the second such attack in Jerusalem within a month.
Israeli neighbours close to the torched house off an alley in the crowded inner city Nahlahot district— its interior walls and the front door blackened by soot—expressed shock and outrage at the attack.
Physiotherapist Yonatan Segev, 38, who was woken by screams from the house and helped to douse the fire with a garden hose, said: “Regardless of what you think of immigration, it is hard to find words for this. It’s a crime, a disaster, it’s subhuman.” He said he did not believe anyone in the street had been responsible and said local Israeli residents had recently shared their barbecue with the couple. “There have been no tensions or arguments here,” he added.
An Eritrean activist at the scene, Habton Mahari, said the attacks had increased after a series of Israeli right-wing politicians had used inflammatory rhetoric against the migrants. “We are very worried about this,” he said. He said the man who suffered the worst injuries around, named as Tzagai, was around 32 and had worked in construction and that his wife Marhawil had worked as a cleaner.
Another Israeli neighbour, Shoshana David, said: “This hurts my heart. They are really really good people, normal people, hard workers. You should write about this so people will know what Jews are doing. Not all but some.”
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