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Why the U.S. Media Barely Covered Brutal Right-Wing Race Riots in Tel Aviv

Middle East analyst MJ Rosenberg discusses the Israel lobby, Iran and the xenophobic riots that shook Israeli society.

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MR: Israeli society in general is becoming increasingly paranoid about everything, which is strange because Israel as a country is militarily more powerful and its people are more secure than probably ever before. There’s not terrorism or anything like that anymore, thank goodness. Yet there’s this real string of paranoia stirred up by Netanyahu. He’s always talking about the Holocaust. He says this is just like 1942, which was probably the worst year in Jewish history. He’s always invoking those kind of tropes and it’s causing a lot of xenophobia. They’re afraid of foreigners. You know, 'the whole world is against us.'

Now you have these refugees from Africa who have made their way to Israel through the Sinai desert. These are mostly Sudanese. They’re black people, and they are what the right here calls “illegals.” What they actually are is refugees, which is something Jews should be able to relate to. They move, for the most part, into Tel Aviv where there’s work for them. All of a sudden the word has gotten out that these people are responsible for crime. Statistically it’s been proven that that’s not true. There’s crime in Tel Aviv -- very low by our standards -- but the crime is not associated with Africans. But it led to this kind of a rage almost reminiscent of the 1940s or 1950s here in the South. It’s when they started grabbing black people in the streets and just would beat them up.

Then – and here’s something that hasn’t happened much here in probably 100 years -- politicians, right-wing politicians from both the Likud and Kadima parties, which are the two biggest parties, started denouncing the Africans and the Sudanese. They said 'they’re a danger to Israel,' and called for rallies in south Tel Aviv, where they are. You have mobs of right-wingers who look sort of like soccer mobs, the mobs that you see in Europe after a soccer game, where they go marching in with lots of young thugs, and start grabbing people on the street. They’re chanting, “go back to Africa,” and, “death to the Africans.”

Netanyahu condemned it in kind of a half-hearted way. It’s really huge and unusual for Israel. It would be unusual in a lot of places now, including here, but in Israel it’s a huge story. People are really upset by it. I don’t want to in any way imply that most Israelis are happy about this. Many Israelis are appalled by it. It’s the biggest story in the country right now, and you will only be able to read about it if you read the Israeli press. This is a common thing. When there are bad things going on inside Israel -- the way they treat the Palestinians and in this case the way they’re treating these poor African refugees from loathsome regimes who wind up in Israel -- these stories are … I don’t want to say suppressed in the United States, but it’s striking how much coverage they get in Israel itself and how a paper like the New York Times is too scared to touch it.

I have to say they’re afraid to touch it. The reason is when an American outlet talks about Israel in any way that’s negative, or reports on anything negative about Israel, they will be inundated with complaints from powerful people who will tell them, “why are you picking on Israel?” They always say, “why is it that China is doing all these things and you’re not writing about that?” Of course, they do. You even see it in the blogosphere too, the intimidation. If you aren’t utterly secure in your position in the media then you don’t mess with Israel. More to the point, you don’t mess with the people here who are Israel’s enforcers.

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