Jewish groups spoke out after riots against African refugees erupted in Tel Aviv Wednesday evening.
Nearly 1,000 protesters gathered with signs in the Hatikvah district of the city, calling for the removal of African immigrants. Over the last five years, an influx of refugees from African nations has created a storm of debate. At the center of the argument is a disconnect between remaining a refugee country while maintaining a Jewish majority.
There are an estimated 60,000 African refugees in Tel Aviv. The government has not deported them but also denies them working permits, adding tension to the situation.
The problem reached a head this week when protestors turned violent, smashing windows, looting cars and physically attacking some victims. Police made 17 arrests.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence.
"There is no place for either the expressions or the actions that we witnessed last night," he said. "I say this to the public at large as well as to the residents of south Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand."
"We hope and expect that the authorities will take effective measures to protect this population from further violence and that legitimate requests by refugees to remain in Israel based on fear of persecution in their home countries will be considered humanely and with due process taking into account internationally accepted norms," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
"While we recognize the complexity involved in properly addressing this issue, and sympathize with Israeli citizens whose personal security has been compromised by the lawlessness and violence of some migrants, we are disturbed by inflammatory public statements made by certain Israeli officials, some of which has veered into racism," the ADL added. "It is imperative that reasonable solutions be found to confront these challenges, one that humanly treats the migrants while ensuring the security concerns of Israeli citizens are properly addressed."
“Jewish Federations are saddened and concerned over growing tensions and violence directed at foreign workers in Israel,” said Kathy Manning, chairwoman of the Jewish Federations of North America board of trustees. “While voicing concerns over the appropriate enforcement of immigration policy and rising violence may be legitimate, we deplore expressions of racism, the stereotyping of population groups and, of course, all violence.”
A border fence is currently under construction along the Israel-Egypt line, to deter illegal immigrants crossing from the Sinai Desert.