There was no Salmon Benedict all week at a stylish eatery in Tel Aviv’s affluent Ramat Aviv district. Across the city, many of the country’s top celebrity chefs sweated as they gingerly balanced hors-d’oeuvres on flimsy paper plates. A shortage of dishwashers, cleaners and builders had blemished the carefree vibe of Israel’s main business and party town.
The reason was the biggest asylum seeker-led strike in the country’s history, as more than 10,000 Africans stepped out of the shadows to protest Israel’s asylum laws. Of over 53,600 people who have crossed into Israel through Egypt since 2006 and remained, only a handful have been granted refugee status. Some are imprisoned in a closed, remote desert detention centre. A new law also allows migrants to be jailed without trial for up to a year, legislation which has provoked outrage.
The newcomers have become the oft-forgotten backbone of Israeli businesses that depend on cheap labour. Some of their bosses have taken a stance in support of the protestors this week, as the migrants chanted in the streets.
Many in Israel agree that a nation established by immigrants must do better than continue what the UN Refugee Agency has called a “warehousing” of migrants for those who have nowhere to return.