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Eritreans riot in southern Tel Aviv

By Philissa Cramer

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his advisors to renew their efforts to deport Eritreans — who say they are asylum seekers, but who he says are economic immigrants — following a riot in Tel Aviv on Sept. 2.

Eritrean asylum seekers who oppose the regime in Eritrea and pro-regime activists clash with Israeli police in south Tel Aviv, Sept. 2. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It occurred after opponents of the regime of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki protested an Eritrean embassy event in Tel Aviv.

They damaged the building where it was held and clashed with supporters of the regime.

Police officers struggled to restore calm, with some reportedly shooting their guns while seeking to quell the violence.

In all, more than 170 people were injured in the incident, including 50 police officers, according to Israeli media reports.

Some remained hospitalized as of Sept. 3.

There are an estimated 30,000 Eritreans in Israel, most of whom came by land between 2007 and 2012.

Eritrea is an impoverished country where a 30-year dictatorship is among the most repressive in the world.

The influx of migrants largely ended more than a decade ago, when Israel constructed a fence along its southern border.

How to handle those who arrived has been an unanswered question since. The Eritreans in Israel say they were fleeing war and oppressive regimes and seeking a safe haven in Israel.

Groups supporting them regard them as political refugees and decry efforts to oust them as discriminatory.

Netanyahu regards them as economic migrants who came to Israel looking for work, and says they are a threat to Israel’s Jewish character as well as to quality of life in southern Tel Aviv, the cluster of low-income neighborhoods where many of them live.

The government does not recognize the vast majority of them as refugees and refers to them as infiltrators. It has sought to deport them or urge them to leave the country voluntarily, something approximately half of the 60,000 who crossed the border have done.

In 2018, Netanyahu canceled a deal he helped formulate that would have relocated about 16,000 of the asylum-seekers to other countries in exchanging for giving others permanent residency in Israel.

On X (Twitter), Netanyahu said on Sunday, Sept. 3, that the unrest in Tel Aviv on Saturday had “crossed a red line” and he would ramp up efforts at deportation.

A ministerial committee Netan-yahu formed in the wake of the riot discussed revoking asylum seekers’ work permits and advancing a law on immigration.

“I am asking the team I convened today to prepare a complete and updated plan for the removal of all other illegal infiltrators from the State of Israel,” he wrote.

Members of the government have publicly fought for months with leaders of Israel’s military and security establishment, whom they accuse of being too soft on protesters. On Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant shot back at those critics, saying they have made “outrageous statements that endanger the most important asset of the State of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces,” according to the Times of Israel.

Following the riots, Itamar Ben-Gvir pressed for and won the right to hold many of the people arrested on Saturday in administrative detention, meaning that they could be held indefinitely without facing charges.

Ben-Gvir visited the South Tel Aviv scene of the unrest and faced jeering from people there on Sunday, the Times of Israel reported.

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