1/11/18 trump, Bibi and Migrants

There are a striking number of comparisons between US President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Both Trump and Netanyahu are being investigated for potential wrong-doing; the two of them attack those who enforce the law, (in Netanyahu’s case, the police and in Trump’s case, the FBI — though both disparage judges and the courts); both men have sons who have recently embarrassed them publicly; both leaders rely increasingly on their base to protect them; neither of them are young men (Netanyahu is  67 and Trump 71); each are on their third marriage; and both lost brothers at a young age (one to alcoholism, and the other in a battle with terrorists). 

Of course, there are also clear differences: Netanyahu is a veteran leader and seasoned politician, with decades of experience; while Trump has practically no experience when it comes to government. Moreover, without knowing the details of either man's health, it is clear that as a former elite soldier, Netanyahu has led a healthier life than Trump, a man who avoided enlisting in the army during the time of Vietnam by developing a spur on his foot.   

However, it is not any of the items above that I want to dwell on today, but rather, the similarity Netanyahu and Trump share in their approaches toward illegal immigrants. Trump’s view is well known, as he bellowed about it throughout his campaign. Although illegal immigration is way down in the US, Trump has been committed to stopping it; while at the same time, drastically cutting legal immigration, from — in the President’s words — “shithole countries”. In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered police to prepare to forcibly move the 40-50,000 Africans migrant (‘refugees’ or ‘job seekers’, depending on your view) out of the country and compel them to migrate to countries willing to accept them in Africa.

A little background … Until five years ago, the Israeli-Egyptian border was wide open, and for a period of two years, tens of thousands of Africans (primarily from Ethiopia and the Sudan), arrived in Israel through that accessible, unblocked border. Once caught on the Israeli side, most were transported to Tel Aviv and located places to live in the southern part of the city. Eventually, they found places to work, some legally, others illegally. The long-time, local residents in that mostly lower income section of the city found their neighborhoods overrun. The city of Tel Aviv has done what it can, providing schooling for the children of the migrants that were soon born, but has no ability to settle them, or address their legal status. The national government, with the exception of detaining a portion of these people in a special prison, (note: the Israeli Supreme Court ruled they could not be detained indefinitely), has done little, with very few of their asylum requests even being processed. It is important to acknowledge that once an actual border fence was built, the number of African migrants arriving in Israel has stopped completely.  

For most residents of Tel Aviv, the migrants are a fact of life. More often than not, they serve as dishwashers and busing staff in restaurants, hotels and other service establishments; fulfilling many of the tasks there are either no Israelis available, or willing to do. However, for those who live in the area where the migrants are concentrated, the experience has been much more problematic, as these neighborhoods have been transformed, and mostly, not for the better.

I will not begin to touch upon the moral issues surrounding these migrants — i.e. is it right to uproot a family of people from Sal Salvador who have been in the US for 17 years with children who are all citizens. Or how Israel, the state founded by refugees, cannot find a way to integrate 50,000 refugees, who have already been living in the country for five or more years, when the world is awash in millions of displaced persons. That being said, in the case of the both Israel and the US, I want to focus on the economic perspective. 

Israel currently has an unemployment rate of 4.3%, while the US unemployment rate is currently 4.1% — both historically low rates. In Tel Aviv, hotels and restaurants currently find it hard to locate a sufficient number of people to hire as waiters, bus boys and other service employees. Businesses in Tel Aviv rely on the work of African migrants and have no idea how they would replace them, if they were to leave. In addition, the projected cost of “resettling” the migrants is expected to cost more than $300 million; money that has not yet been allocated. 

Similarly, the Salvadorans and other immigrants in the United States do the work that average Americans do not want to do. At the same time, these newcomers are making sure that their children get the education that will allow them to advance on the economic ladder, like all generations of immigrants to America have been doing since the US was founded.

It strongly appears that Netanyahu and Trump have both been talking about taking action against immigrants for one reason — which is, that that rhetoric sounds good to their base. Both the Netanyahu base and the Trump base share the same disdain for illegal immigrants, especially those different from themselves. Consequently, both Trump and Netanyahu strengthen their support from their respective bases when they attack immigrants — and both embattled leaders seem to need the support of their base more than they need to do what is best for their respective countries. The question is, will their need to satisfy their respective bases force them to take actions beyond their rhetoric, and thus inflict real harm on their respective nations and the people involved.