Recent rapes blamed on African migrants have ignited a political and emotional backlash against their ballooning numbers, with Israelis and their leaders stridently — and in an alarming new development, violently — calling for their expulsion.
Israel, bound by an international refugees treaty it ardently promoted, doesn’t seem to have that option, and the gap between rhetoric and reality threatens to send simmering social antagonisms boiling over into open conflict.
It has raised questions, relevant all over the developed world, about how much is owed to the impoverished migrants who manage to sneak in.
Over the past seven years, as many as 60,000 African migrants, most from Sudan and Eritrea, have slipped across Israel’s border with Egypt, exploiting the lack of a physical barrier and widespread lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula that has been one result of the fall last year of longtime Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Israel is erecting a barrier along the roughly 200-km of border.