Israelis urged to 'uphold Jewish values' after Tel Aviv asylum seeker protests

Jewish organisations have reacted with horror after protests in Tel Aviv over asylum seekers descended into a violent riot.

The demonstration, held in the impoverished Hatikva neighbourhood of Tel Aviv, saw around 1,000 people take to the streets to call for the removal of African asylum seekers.

It is estimated that as many as 60,000 African migrants have passed through the Sinai Peninsula and across the southern border with Egypt into Israel since 2005, many from war-torn parts of Sudan and Eritrea. Israel is a signatory to the 1951 UN treaty on war refugees and accordingly cannot send asylum seekers back to places where they would be in danger.

The influx, in a country which already has a high gulf between rich and poor, has made their presence controversial and led some groups and politicians to demand their expulsion. The Interior Minister has also questioned the impact of the refugees on the Jewish nature of the state. Eli Yishai called the situation "the crumbling of the Zionist dream".

Wednesday's demonstration came not long after a series of rapes blamed on African migrants and after a week of rising tensions between asylum seekers and Israelis in pockets of south Tel Aviv.

The Israeli Prime Minister, who has identified the numbers of asylum seekers as a problem in the past, strongly condemned the violence. "I want to make it very clear that there is no room for the kinds of expressions and actions we saw," he said. "I say this both to public officials and to the residents of south Tel Aviv."

The Zionist Youth Council, the representative body of British Zionist youth movements, condemned "the violent acts of racism that took place against African asylum seekers".

They said in a statement: "No matter our beliefs of freedom to protest, speak out and voice our opinions these rights do not extend to violence against others, threats of violence or theft and destruction of property."

Quoting the line in Leviticus that 'when a stranger resides in your land, you shall not wrong him…for you were strangers in the land of Egypt', they added: "As Jewish, Zionist organisations we support a fair and just state of Israel and we encourage all citizens to act in manner that upholds Jewish values and the values of the state of Israel."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said: " While we recognize the complexity involved in properly addressing this issue, and sympathise 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. "These statements are counterproductive and only serve to further inflame tensions."

Last updated: 10:56am, May 25 2012