A contingent of border guards has been sent in to help maintain law and order in Tel Aviv neighbourhoods rocked by race riots, a police spokesman said on Friday.
“A unit of border guards comprising 60 men, including 40 police officers, has been deployed in south Tel Aviv to ensure order,” Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.
The riots on Wednesday night in impoverished neighbourhoods around the city’s central bus station erupted when a protest by 1,000 people against the rising number of Africans moving into the area turned violent.
Witnesses described scenes of chaos as demonstrators went on the rampage with sticks and stones, attacking African-run shops and smashing up a car driven by two African men.
Police said afterwards 20 people had been arrested on suspicion of vandalising shops and attacking cars driven by Africans, but added that there were no reports of anyone being injured.
The riots sparked shock in Israel, but also prompted top-level calls for the immediate arrest and expulsion of tens of thousands of African migrants, most of whom originate from Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.
Media reports said the rally turned nasty after the crowd was whipped up by several racist speeches by rightwing MPs, several of them from the ruling Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The infiltrators are a cancer in our body,” Likud MP Miri Regev told the crowd, as fellow MP Danny Danon shouted: “The infiltrators must be expelled from Israel! Expulsion now!”
Regev’s comments were slammed on Friday by parliamentary speaker Reuven Rivlin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“I am shocked by these statements,” Rivlin told public radio. “I was born at the start of World War II and these comments remind me of the hate speech aimed against the Jewish people.”
Interior ministry statistics show there are more than 60,000 African immigrants living illegally in Israel. Some are refugees fleeing persecution back home, while others are economic migrants.
The issue of illegal immigration from Africa has thrown into relief sharp divisions within Israel, with many top officials, including Netanyahu, warning that the growing number of “infiltrators” poses a major threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state.
Netanyahu Thursday issued a statement promising to resolve “the problem of the infiltrators” by sending them back to their home countries in a process which he said would start “soon.”
President Shimon Peres said on Thursday night that “hating foreigners is against the foundations of Judaism.”
But Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has frequently tried to expel non-Jewish immigrants sparking accusations of racism, demanded that all Africans living illegally in Israel be put “behind bars.”