Critics accuse Netanyahu of exaggerating the dangers posed by refugees
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the construction of two massive fences along his country’s southern border with Egypt in a bid to keep out African asylum seekers he claims are threatening the country’s Jewish character.
The barrier will also thwart terrorists from infiltrating the porous border, according to Mr. Netanyahu. “We are talking about a strategic decision to guarantee the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
The prime minister insisted that the step will not stop refugees in dire need from reaching Israel, saying that the country would “remain open” to those with a genuine claim.
But critics dispute this. “This nationalist and racist rhetoric is divorced from reality,” said Dov Khenin, a left-wing member of the Knesset. He added that it was “intended to frighten the Israelis that ‘the Africans are coming’. Sudanese and Eritreans make up many of the about 20,000 asylum seekers to reach Israel via Egypt since 2005.
The project is expected to cost $270m, and will cover two parts of the border, near the city of Eilat and on the edge of the Gaza strip. Although the army began planning the fence in 2005, Mr. Netanyahu’s backing for it now is part of a wider crackdown against the influx, which refugee-rights activists say has dropped somewhat recently because of Israel’s policy of immediate returns of refugees to Egypt and shootings of refugees along the border by Egyptian troops.