New report debunks common myth

Elizabeth Tsurkov
24/10/2010

A new report (Hebrew pdf) by the Israeli parliament’s (Knesset) research center completely debunks the common myth spread by the media and the Israeli government that African asylum seekers increase crime rates. The report, examining crime rates among the African population in Israel and the general population in cities where many asylum seekers reside in, show that Africans are much less likely than Israelis to be involved in crime.

The importance of this report might not seem obvious to a person who hasn’t followed the the Israeli media closely and its reporting about African asylum seekers and the statements coming from Israeli officials on the matter. Whenever the Israeli media covers the issue of asylum seekers, except on rare occasions, they are presented as violent criminals and a threat to their Israeli neighbors and society as a whole. Whenever Israeli officials address the issue, they claim asylum seekers are illegal migrant workers who drive crime rates up.

A quick survey of the Israeli media’s coverage of the issue reveals misleading headlines, reports filled with racist stereotypes and flat-out lies. For example, Maariv reported this August about the establishment of a “special police force that will deal with crimes perpetrated by refugees from Darfur [common way to address all asylum seekers - E] in Eilat… The significant and scary statistic that propelled the Eilat police into action was a 300% increase in crimes perpetrated by refugees.” A month earlier the elected mayor of Eilat, Meir Izhac-Halevy claimed that “the crime rate has risen sharply: robbery, violence and sexual harassment have become part of every day life. The police is doing nothing and the residents are afraid to leave their homes.” However, statistics from the Eilat police department that were shared with the Knesset research center reveal that in 2010 the number of criminal incidents involving refugees is 42 (in the first seven months), while the number of offenses in 2009 was 76 and 216 in 2008, showing a significant drop, and not an increase in the crime rate of African asylum seekers. In addition, the Knesset’s statistics show that Israelis are 10 times more likely to commit crimes in Eilat than African refugees.

In Tel Aviv, residents voiced fears for their lives because of the “stares” of asylum seekers and claimed that they’re turning life in Tel Aviv into “living hell”. Similar lies were spread by Israeli officials. A Shas (ultra-orthodox party) council member in Tel Aviv claimed that “according to police figures, in places where illegal infiltrators live, crime rates have increased significantly, and they are responsible for 40% of criminal offenses.” However, official statistics by the Tel Aviv police department show that African refugees are responsible for 0.72% of crimes in Tel Aviv in 2010. Israelis are six times more likely to be involved in a crime in Tel Aviv than African asylum seekers.

Similar fears have been voiced in Ashdod, where Israelis complained about the violence allegedly perpetrated by asylum seekers and their “stares at girls and women”. Israeli neighbors of asylum seekers even held an emergency meeting about what to do with the African threat. However, statistics reveal that Israelis are 4.5 times more likely to commit a crime in Ashdod than asylum seekers.

It should be noted that most crimes perpetrated by asylum seekers are within their community and there is a likely under-reporting of crime by asylum seekers. But even if the real crime rates are higher than those reported to the police, they are still not close to the crime rate of Israelis. The false portrayal of migrants and refugees as a threat and as criminals is a way to dehumanize people who have done nothing wrong but seek refuge from carnage and oppression. This dehumanization and racism allows the State of Israel to carry on with its inhumane policies toward refugees such as jailing refugees who have crossed the border for years, refusing to grant nearly all asylum seekers refugee status and not protecting refugees from unscrupulous Israeli employers. The day has come to cleanse our public discourse of racist stereotypes that only serve to justify the unjustifiable.