Tel Aviv

City template Tel-Aviv-Yafo
Basic information on ethnic minorities and
their participation
Report according to the grid for city templates
of the MPMC project
By Michael Alexander
Tel Aviv, Israel
I. Basic Data
I.1. Size
The city of Tel-Aviv-Yafo1 is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
It serves as the economic centre of the largest metropolitan area in Israel, which
contains 42% of the national population. Although Jerusalem is the political capital,
Tel Aviv is the demographic, economic and cultural centre of Israel. The official 1997
population of Tel Aviv was 348,600, the city's total area 505 hectares. However, the
city sits at the heart of the "Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area," thus it is surrounded by
urban development on all sides except west.
The "Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area" -- TAMA (1997 population: 2,539,100) was
officially redefined in 1995 to include the Tel Aviv District and Central District, as
well as the city of Ashdod which belongs to the Southern District.2 TAMA contains
nearly 70 local authorities, including 22 municipalities. It includes a "core" (the city
of Tel Aviv) and three "rings", reaching north, east and south of Tel Aviv (Lerman
and Shahar, 1996). The "core" city of Tel Aviv accounts for 18.9% of the
metropolitan population, the "inner ring" cities of Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan and
Givatayim contain another 32.2%. The "middle ring" of the metropolitan area
includes another nine municipalities, and smaller localities, totalling 30.8% of the
metropolitan population. The "outer ring" (17.9% of the metropolitan population)
includes open land belonging to several regional councils, Arab towns, as well as
cities on the northern, eastern and southern edges of the metropolitan area. The latter
include the city of Netanya to the north (halfway to Haifa), the city of Ashdod to the
south (25 km. from the Gaza Strip) and the new city of Modi'in to the east (bordering
the West Bank). The Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area thus covers most of central Israel.
Tel-Aviv-Yafo is normally divided into four parts3: "Northern Tel Aviv" is north of
the Yarkon River, containing the newest and wealthiest residential areas (80,000
residents). "Eastern Tel Aviv" lies east of the Ayalon Highway, comprising
middle-class and lower-class neighborhoods (77,000 residents) and an industrial area.
"Central Tel Aviv" (130,000 residents) is bounded by the sea to the west and the
Ayalon Highway to the east, and includes historic residential areas, the downtown and
Central Business District. "Southern Tel Aviv and Yafo" (70,000 residents) includes
the poorer neighborhoods of southwestern Tel Aviv, the central bus stations area, an
industrial area, and Yafo (T.A.-Yafo Municipality, 1998, Quarters of Tel-Aviv-Yafo,
Planning Data). Yafo includes the historic town (4000 years old) which is today a
tourist area and port, the old downtown of Yafo, and neighborhoods with Arab and
Jewish population. The 16,000 Arab residents (Moslems and Christians) make up
Tel-Aviv-Yafo is the official name of the city, since the annexation of the Arab city of Yafo (Jaffa) to
Tel Aviv in 1950 (see below). We shall use the term "Tel Aviv" to designate the entire city, noting
Yafo separately when necessary.
Israel is divided into six national districts.
Administratively, the city of Tel-Aviv-Yafo is divided into nine districts and 63 neighborhoods and
residential areas.
some 25% of Yafo's population and account for 4% of the population of
Tel-Aviv-Yafo (T.A.-Yafo Municipality, Statistical Yearbook 1997).
Tel Aviv has been undergoing economic restructuring since the beginning of the
1980s. While the manufacturing sector has been shrinking, there has been a boom in
financial and business services, commerce, restaurants and tourist services. The main
economic sectors of Tel Aviv, based on employment figures, are finance and business
services (24%); public services (21%); commerce, restaurants and hotels (19%); and
industry (16%). The economic growth of the city has been offset by steady residential
population decline. Population out-migration to the suburbs was slightly offset by a
certain amount of central city residential growth, and temporarily by the Russian
migration wave in the early 1990s. The most significant demographic change in the
past six years has been the settlement of foreign workers, estimated at several tens of
thousands (see below). However, they are not yet included in the official population
I.2 Relative significance of city
Since its foundation in 1909 Tel Aviv has been the residential, commercial and
business center of Israel. Originally intended to be a quiet "garden suburb" of Jewish
families who fled the overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions of Yafo, the new
town rapidly became the center of the pre-State Jewish settlement. By the 1930s most
of the cultural institutions were located in Tel Aviv, as well as the core of today's
commercial and business areas. From the 1960s onward Tel Aviv developed into a
true metropolitan centre, serving the whole of central Israel, and in certain economic
sectors, the entire country.
Today Tel Aviv is the business, commercial and cultural core of Israel. Over 300,000
people are employed in the city, 37% residing in Tel Aviv and the rest commuting.
40% of the Israeli workforce in the financial and business services work in Tel Aviv,
as well as half of all the lawyers and over 60% of the accountants in Israel. 4 The
significance of Tel Aviv is due to its central role in the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area.
Over the past two decades hi-tech industries and financial services have increasingly
concentrated in Tel Aviv and the three "inner ring" cities. This trend is expected to
continue, as is the dominance of the TAMA in Israel's economy, which is even greater
than its proportion (42 %) of the national population. 5 The current population of
Israel is projected to increase from 6 to 8 million in the next 20 years, while the
population of the TAMA. is expected to reach between 3.2 to 3.4 million by the year
2020. Between 1983 - 1994 the population of Israel increased by 35.5% and that of
the TAMA by 28.3%. The main source of population increase was immigration. In
this period 244,000 immigrants settled in the TAMA.
All major bank headquarters, the majority of Israeli insurance and real estate companies, and the
Israel Stock Exchange are located in Tel Aviv's Central Business District (Municipality of Tel
Aviv-Yafo, Tel Aviv - Mediterranean Metropolis, 1996.
In 1995 the T.A.M.A. supplied 46% of the work places in Israel and produced 50% of Israel's G.N.P.
Over half of all employees in Israel's hi-tech industry work in the T.A.M.A (Lerman and Shahar, 1996).
I.3 Cycles of migration
Introduction -- Defining "immigrants" in Israel
Israel is an immigration society, its raison d'etre, ideology and institutions being based
on the "ingathering of the Diaspora", i.e. on Jewish immigration. From pre-statehood
and until recently, immigrants to Israel were overwhelmingly Jewish. Israeli society is
made up largely of these "veteran" immigrants and their children, plus the indigenous
Palestinian minority which accounts for 18% of the population. The difference
between Jewish immigrants and non-Jewish immigrants (e.g. foreign workers) is
crucial. According to the Israeli Law of Return, Jewish immigrants (oleh / olim6) are
automatically granted citizenship upon their arrival, including immediate voting
rights.7 The official status of "oleh hadash" --"new (Jewish) immigrant" -- lasts
several years from the date of arrival and includes, beyond the rights of citizenship,
various "oleh rights" such as rental subsidies, free Hebrew courses, and subsidized
mortgages. Eventually the olim assimilate and are considered part of the Israeli Jewish
In contrast, non-Jews who wish to settle in Israel find it almost impossible to obtain
citizenship or even permanent resident status -- unless they marry an Israeli and/or
convert to Judaism (neither is easy). Until recently there were indeed almost no
non-Jewish immigrants to Israel (see below).
In the context of this report on Tel Aviv, we shall use "migrants" to refer to the two
latest groups of immigrants to the city: the wave of olim who arrived from the Soviet
Union since 1989, and the foreign workers who arrived in the 1990s. The uniqueness
of these two groups, in contrast to previous migration waves, is that the non-Jewish
factor becomes crucial. In the case of the (mostly) Russian olim, a significant
proportion are not Jewish, although most have been accorded "oleh status" and will
probably integrate into the Jewish majority. The foreign workers present a completely
different phenomenon. The following section on the immigration history of Tel Aviv
is therefore divided chronologically into a) the Jewish migrations that today make up
the majority of veteran Tel Avivians; b) the indigenous Palestinian "ethnic minority";
c) the last wave of olim from the Soviet Union; and d) the migrant workers who
became a significant factor from 1993. The rest of the report will refer to the migrant
worker population, which is the most significant in terms of the MPMC project.
Oleh (singular) and olim (plural) derives from the Biblical Hebrew "to arise, come up" referring to
immigration specifically to the Land of Israel.
The Law of Return defines as "Jewish" anyone having a Jewish mother or having converted to
Judaism. However, the Law states that the status of olim also applies to non-Jewish immigrants who
have a Jewish parent or grandparent or who immigrate with a Jewish spouse.
It should be noted, however, that many demographic statistics in Israel include "country of
origin/parents' countries of origin" due to the continuing socio-economic differences between Israelis
born to Israeli parents, and Israelis born to parents who migrated from the Arab countries (of Sephardi
origin) or from Europe (of Ashkenazi origin). The Sephardi-Ashkenazi divide remains a major political
and socio-economic rift in Israeli society -- although a majority of Jewish Israelis today are children of
"mixed" (Sephardi-Ashkenazi) marriages.
A. Jewish immigration: 1909 - 1989
The history of Tel Aviv is largely a history of the "waves" of Jewish immigration
which literally built up the city. It is only in the past decade that non-Jewish economic
migrants have become a factor in Israel, and especially in Tel Aviv. Although the city
was founded by sixty "local" Jewish families (residents of nearby Yafo) in 1909,
within a few years migrants from overseas became the majority in the city's
population. The spectacular growth of Tel Aviv was based on waves of Jewish
refugees coming from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (Table 1). In 1914
Tel Aviv had 1,500 residents. A wave of immigrants from Europe in the 1920s
swelled the population to 34,000 by 1925, turning the Yafo suburb into a real city,
including the first hospital, theatre, philharmonic, business area, etc. Another wave of
immigrants, mostly from Germany, tripled the population to 100,000 by 1935, and
based Tel Aviv's commercial and industrial dominance. Further immigration doubled
the population to 200,000 by 1947, creating the need for massive public housing
Table 1: Population Growth in Tel-Aviv-Yafo
Average annual
rate of change*
* Computed as the average of the annual rate of change for the subject years.
** Includes Russian olim, does not include non-Israeli residents (e.g. migrant
Source: Municipality of Tel-Aviv-Yafo: Statistical Yearbook 1997; Historical Survey
of Master Plans.
The 1948 War of Independence, involving local Palestinians and the neighboring
Arab states, resulted in massive population movements on both sides. Most of the
local Palestinians fled and the Arab population of Yafo fell from 70,000 to 4,000. The
nearly deserted city of Yafo was officially joined with Tel Aviv into one municipality
in 1950. At the same time, Jewish refugees from the Arab countries (the Maghreb,
Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, etc.) and European refugees from the Holocaust
were housed in Yafo and hastily built residential areas. They increased Tel Aviv's
population to 345,000 in 1951 and 386,000 in 1961. The population peaked in 1963 at
394,000. From the mid-1960s until 1988 the city's population slowly decreased as a
result of suburbanization. Following the last immigration wave, from the former
Soviet Union, the population has stabilized in the mid-1990s around 350,000 official
residents in the city -- not including the migrant worker population.
B. The Palestinian ethnic minority
The indigenous Palestinians who were a majority in Yafo until 1948 became almost
overnight a minority. Between 1948 to 1997 the non-Jewish population in
Tel-Aviv-Yafo grew from 4,000 to 19,300 (5.5% of the city population). Until 1990
"non-Jewish" in Tel-Aviv-Yafo meant Arab, of which over 60% were Moslem, nearly
40% Christian, and about 1% were Druze. From 1990, however, with the new wave of
immigrants from the Soviet Union, "non-Jewish" no longer assumes Arab. Since the
census is based on respondents' self-definition of their religious identity, the exact
number of Arab residents after 1990 is hard to ascertain.9 It is estimated they make
up 4% of the city's population. The overwhelming majority of the Arabs live in one
primarily Arab neighborhood (Ajami) and several "mixed" neighborhoods in Yafo
(Statistical Yearbook 1997).
C. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union: 1989-1994
The disintegration of the Soviet Union led to a wave of immigrants to Israel totalling
over half a million between 1989-1994. The number of Soviet immigrants who settled
first in Tel Aviv between 1990-1995 totalled nearly 32,000. Many stayed for only a
short period in Tel Aviv, at relatives or friends, and then moved on to outlying cities
where rental prices were lower10. By the end of 1995, Russian immigrants in Tel Aviv
totalled nearly 26,000, or 7.4% of the city population. Yafo and the poorer, southern
Tel Aviv neighborhoods absorbed a disproportionate number of the Russian
immigrants. District 8 (South-west Tel Aviv) which accounts for 7.7% of the city
population, accounted in 1995 for 17.5% of the Russian immigrant population. Yafo
(district 7, accounting for 13.4% of the city population) became home to 23.6% of the
Russian immigrant population in the city (Statistical Yearbook 1997). Apart from
lower rental prices, a major attraction of south-west Tel Aviv was the presence of
relatives who arrived in the previous Russian immigration wave in the 1970s -- many
of them from the Asian Soviet republics. The presence of an ethnic community of
In the 1996 census, 35% of the respondents identifying themselves as non-Jews
were Russian immigrants.
The government's policy of "direct absorption" toward this wave of migrants let them freely choose
their destination of residence, entitling each immigrant household to a constant rental subsidy for three
veteran immigrants from the Asian republics has reinforced the tendency of
immigrants from those republics (e.g. Georgia, Uzbekistan) to settle and buy
apartments in southwestern Tel Aviv, while acting as a deterrent to immigrants from
the other republics, e.g. Russia and Ukraine. The latter have tended to buy apartments
in Yafo and eastern Tel Aviv (Menahem, 1993).
This latest wave of olim is the first in Israel's history to include a high proportion of
non-Jews. It is difficult to determine in numbers, especially as the definition of "who
is a Jew" differs, depending on who you ask. The Ministry of Interior estimated that a
third or more of the Russian immigrant wave to Israel was non-Jewish according to
the Law of Return, which adopts the Jewish religious (halacha) definition. In the 1995
Tel Aviv census, the immigrants were asked for the first time to define their religion
(previously, olim had been automatically categorized as Jews). 88% of the olim
defined themselves as Jewish, while 10.5% defined themselves as "religionless" and
1.5% as Christian. We may assume for the reasons noted above, that the "religionless"
were not Jewish and that not all of those defining themselves as Jewish were indeed
so, according to Israeli law. The apparent non-Jewishness of many Russian
immigrants means that this population will find it more difficult than "regular" olim to
integrate into Israeli society, and may even constitute a new "ethnic minority." At this
point in time it is impossible to say. To a certain degree, it is a political matter.11
In socio-economic terms, the Russian immigrants are characterized by a high
educational level and a high proportion (69%) of academics, scientific and
technical-professional occupations before they emigrated. In the first years in Israel
they experienced sharp downward mobility but within a few years many managed to
improve their position.12 This was expressed in an outward movement of this
population from southwestern Tel Aviv to other districts in the city.13 We can assume
that the Russian immigrants who remained in southwest Tel Aviv represented the
weaker parts of the immigrant population in socio-economic terms, similar to the
veteran Israeli population in that area. The southwestern neighborhoods abandoned by
the upwardly mobile Russian immigrants in the mid-1990s were soon filled in by the
newest wave of migrants, the foreign workers.
D. Migrant workers: 1993 -__
When referring to the migrant worker population in Tel Aviv, it is crucial to
remember the different attitude toward Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants, in Israeli
society and according to the law. Indeed, the word "immigrant" (mehager) is not yet
used in Israel to describe the non-Jewish migrants. They are called ovdim zarim
In the last election the most hotly contested ministry was Interior, fought over by the Orthodox party,
Shas, and the new party of the Russian immigrants (now over 10% of the Israeli population). The main
issue of contention was who would decide which immigrants are defined as Jewish and how should the
none-Jewish immigrants be treated. Interestingly, the #2 politician in the immigrants' party, who served
as Minister of Immigration and Absorption in the previous government, is Jewish by religious law
(Jewish mother), although his father is a Christian pastor!
As expressed in a random sample survey of 479 new immigrant households in Tel Aviv carried out
in 1992 (Menahem, 1993). The proportion of those occupied in academic scientific occupations, for
example, dropped from 38% to 11%.
Menahem's survey (1992) showed that 66% of the immigrants who came to the southwest district
left by 1992 to other areas, while in the southeast district and Yafo the proportion was 45% and 47%,
("foreign workers"), a term which also contains biblical connotations of paganism
(avoda zara). Israeli law does not grant non-Jewish immigrants citizenship or
permanent resident status, even after years of residence. Excepting a marginal number
of non-Jews who settled in Israel for personal reasons (e.g. marriage) and the
non-Jewish portion of the last Russian migration wave, all the non-Jewish immigrants
to Israel are foreign workers. This first wave of non-Jewish migrants in the history of
Israel became a tangible phenomenon from 1993.
Illegal migrant workers began settling in Tel Aviv at the end of the 1980s in small
numbers, but the turning point came in 1993 following the government decision to
import foreign workers from overseas.14 Understanding the massive increase of
migrant workers in Tel Aviv from the mid-1990s requires a knowledge of the foreign
worker phenomenon at the national level. In Israel this began after the 1967 Six Day
War, with the daily importation of Palestinian workers from the occupied territories.
From 1967 to 1987 the Israeli economy gradually became dependent on Palestinian
workers, who commuted to work in Israel from their villages and cities in the nearby
West Bank and Gaza, and returned home every night or at most every week. By the
late 1980s some 120,000 workers, or 9% of the local labour force, was Palestinian.
The construction and agricultural sectors became especially dependent on Palestinian
labour. In 1987 the Palestinian uprising (intifada) broke out. A series of terror attacks
in Israeli cities in the early 1990s led to frequent closures of the Territories and bans
on the employment of Palestinians. This led to serious labour shortages, especially in
the construction and agricultural sectors (Schnell 1999a, Fischer, 1999).
In mid-1993, under pressure from the construction and agricultural lobbies, the
government decided to allow large-scale importation of foreign workers from
overseas, as a "temporary" solution to the shortage of Palestinian workers. Until 1992,
"legal foreign workers"15 (i.e., non-Palestinian workers) were a marginal factor in
Israel, estimated in the 1980s at several thousands, working primarily in geriatric and
tourism services. The large Russian immigration wave which began in 1989 resulted
in the Palestinians' workplaces being partially filled with Russian new immigrants.
This substitution lasted a short time, however, and pressure continued on the
government to allow importation of foreign workers. Between 1993-1997 the number
of foreign workers with permits rose from 16,000 to 84,500. In mid-1997 the
government adapted a policy aimed at severely limiting the number of foreign
workers, lowering the amount of legal permits to 77,000 at the end of 1997. Current
estimates of the number of foreign workers with permits now in Israel point to
80-90,000. The legal foreign workers are employed in the construction industry
(75%), agriculture (15%) and domestic and geriatric services (10%) (Fischer, 1999;
Schnell, 1999b)
Estimates of the number of foreigners without permit in Israel vary, but there is
general agreement that for every foreigner with a permit there is at least one "illegal."
Paradoxically, the current Israeli law makes the situation of legal workers often more
According to a survey of foreign workers in Tel Aviv's Neve Shaanan neighborhood (Schnell
1999a), over a third entered Israel before 1995, and another third had arrived in 1995-96. Over a
quarter of those living in Israel before 1995 had meanwhile brought first-degree family members after
Legal foreign workers are imported to Israel for periods of up to a year, renewable for several years,
depending on the employment sector. Manpower agencies are largely in charge of this process
difficult than that of illegal workers, due to the "bonding" of the worker to a specific
employer. "Legal" foreign workers are those with a valid residency permit and a work
permit at a specific employer. In effect, the two permits are interdependent. Since the
work permit of a migrant worker is linked to a specific employer, moving to another
employer even in the same sector, makes one "illegal." This bonding of foreign
workers to a specific employer who can make them illegal simply by dismissing them,
encourages massive exploitation. Many migrant workers in fact abandon their
exploitative "legal" employer in order to earn better wages, thus entering the illegal
worker population.16 The main "entry routes" to Israel for illegals are (a) entering on
tourist visas (2-3 months) and remaining to work; (b) entering as legal workers
(usually, 10 month work permits) and then leaving the legal employer; (c) increasing
numbers of workers from Arab countries enter through neighboring Egypt and Jordan
and then "disappear" within the Palestinian or Israeli Arab communities, thus entering
the Israeli labour market (Schnell, 1999a).
Illegal immigration to Israel developed in the late 1980s with mostly African and
Latin American "tourists" who stayed on to work. The sudden increase of legal
foreign workers imported since the mid-1990s, many of whom remained after their
permits expired, combined with the effect of "chain migration," resulted in a
tremendous increase. 1997 official estimates of foreign workers without permit varied
between 70,000 (Central Bureau of Statistics) and 120,000 (Ministry of Interior). The
official estimates for 1998 vary between 74,000 to 90,000 illegal foreign workers in
Israel. The illegal migrant workers are employed mostly in the service sector
(cleaning, restaurants) and light industry (Schnell, 1999b; Fischer, 1999; Bar Zuri,
Altogether, the number of foreign workers in Israel (1998) comes to some 170,000
(80,000 with permits, 90,000 without permits) -- according to official estimates.17
Foreign workers now account for approximately 10% of the workforce in Israel. In
effect, they have replaced the Palestinian workers, who now account for only 4% of
the local workforce. The dependence of the local economy on non-Israeli labour,
especially in several vital sectors such as construction and agriculture which depended
for over two decades on Palestinian workers, explains the phenomenal growth of the
foreign worker phenomenon in Israel, and points to its likely continuation (Schnell,
1999b). Unlike the Palestinians, however, the overseas foreign workers do not return
home every night. Increasingly, they concentrate in the largest city, Tel Aviv.
In Tel Aviv there is still no official census of foreigners by the local authority, but
there are several estimates. The Municipality estimated in 1997 that there were some
60,000 foreigners in the city. The latest estimates (1999) by the Municipality are
much lower, below 25,000. Among researchers, however, the estimates vary between
25-40,000 and some believe the numbers may be even higher than 60,000. All agree,
however, that in Tel Aviv the percentage of illegal foreigners is higher than the
"Illegal" foreign workers are defined by Israeli law as those without a residence permit and/or
without a work permit.
Some consider the government estimates to be low, and place the total at 200,000
or more. Kav La'Oved - Workers Hotline, a non-governmental organization for
workers rights, estimates there are between 200- 250,000 foreign workers in Israel, of
which 100,000 have legal permits.
national average, possibly reaching 70% or more of the city's foreign population
(Schnell, 1999b; Municipal unpublished policy proposal).
I.4 Composition of migrant worker population
Lacking a local census on migrants in Tel Aviv, we must describe the composition of
the local migrant worker population based on estimates of the national situation, as
well as one local survey in the main foreign workers' neighborhood, Neve Sha'anan.
In all of Israel, about half of the legal foreign worker population comes from Eastern
Europe (mostly Romania) and slightly less than half from Asia, mostly Thailand and
Philippines.18 Of the illegal migrant workers in Israel, a third are estimated to come
from Eastern Europe, 17% from Asia, 15% from Africa, and 14% from South
America (Labor Ministry, Manpower Planning Authority, 1998).
In Tel Aviv, the percentage of illegal foreigners is higher than legal foreigners -according to the Municipal Welfare Division, some 80% of the local migrant worker
population are illegal. The dominance of the service sector in Tel Aviv, rather than
construction and agriculture, weighs the migrant population in Tel Aviv in favor of
Africans and South Americans (cleaning, food, light industry), and East Asians
(geriatric service, food). According to a 1997 survey in the main neighborhood of the
Tel Aviv foreign worker population (Schnell, 1999a)19, the four primary groups of
foreigners are: Africans, East Asians, South Americans and East Europeans,
accounting for 20-28% each (Table 2). Altogether, over 80 countries are represented
in the foreign worker population in Tel Aviv (Welfare Division, 1999).
Table 2: Foreign Workers in Neve Sha'anan, by Nationality
Continent of origin
South America
Eastern Europe
Distribution (%)
Main countries of origin
Ghana, Nigeria
Philippines, Thailand
Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia
Romania, Poland, C.S.U
Source: Schnell, I. (1999), "Foreign Workers in Israel"
Africans comprise the largest and most "veteran" group of foreign workers, in Tel
Aviv since the late 1980s. They include Ghanaians, Nigerians, Congolese and
representatives of various other countries of sub-Saharan Africa, both anglophone and
francophone (see Chapter 3). The South American migrant community comes from
The largest groups of legal migrants in Israel are: Romania (some 40%); Thailand (18%); Turkey
(15%), C.S.U. (7%) (Schnell, 1999b).
This is the most comprehensive survey of foreign workers in Israel up to now, encompassing 5018
foreigners in the Neve Shaanan neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, out of a total population of 7200
(Israelis and foreigners) in the neighborhood.
nearly every country in that continent, but mainly from Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia,
Chile and Venezuela. Both these groups enter the country under tourist visas and
then remain to work illegally. Kemp et. al. (2000) note the characteristics common to
the African and Latino migrant communities: 1) a great majority are illegal; 2) a high
percentage of families with children; 3) a highly educated population (secondary and
tertiary education); 4) both communities have developed communitarian patterns of
organization: self-help institutions, formal and informal religious organizations, sports
clubs and various leisure organizations.
The East Asians are mostly single Philippino women and a smaller number of single
Thai men and women, working in domestic and geriatric service, and food. Philippino
women are employed legally as personal nurses and live at their employer's residence.
An unknown amount have left their legal employers and continue to work illegally,
usually as domestic help. A considerable number of Philippino women, who arrived
single, have married and/or given birth (from Africans, Israelis, etc.) The Eastern
Europeans are "imported" primarily from Romania in organized groups, by the
construction industry. The Romanians are all single men. Some of them have left their
legal employer and continue to work without permits. Smaller nationality groups
include Turks, Poles, Indians and Chinese, mostly men who also work in the
constuction sector. A significant number of Polish and other Eastern European women
work in cleaning and geriatric care, some of them married to other foreign workers.
An unknown number of foreign workers originate from Arab countries (mostly
Jordanians, but also from Egypt and Maghreb countries. They cross the border into
the Palestinian Authority under tourist visas and then continue into Israel (Schnell,
Of the foreign workers surveyed in the Neve Sha'anan neighborhood, a third were
bachelors sharing apartments; 25% were single men whose wives and often children
remained in the home country (mostly in East Europe); some 40% of the households
were couples, of which two thirds have children (Schnell, 1999b). Some 1,700 foreign
workers' children reside in Tel Aviv, mostly under six years of age, nearly all of them
undocumented (Municipal Welfare Department, 1999).
I.5 Geographical Concentration of Migrant Workers in Tel Aviv
As noted earlier, the last wave of (Russian) immigrants concentrated in Yafo,
southwest and southeast Tel Aviv. This roughly parallels the concentration of the
foreign worker population, with some differences. The two southwestern
neighborhoods of Neve Sha'anan and Shapira have been defined by the municipal
Planning Division as the "core area" of the foreign worker population in Tel Aviv,
with another four southern neighborhoods as secondary concentrations. According to
an unpublished 1999 municipal estimate, between 8,500-10,000 foreign workers
reside in the core area (Neve Sha'anan, Shapira), comprising between 50 to 60 percent
of these neighborhoods' population. If the latest Municipality estimate of
approximately 25,000 foreign workers in Tel Aviv is correct, then the core area
contains over one third of the foreign worker population in the city. The other
neighborhoods with foreign worker concentrations are located around the core area:
Florentine (southwest), Hatikva and Ezra-Argazim (southeast). Additional
concentrations exist in Yafo, and in several central Tel Aviv neighborhoods: Kerem
Hateimanim, Lev Ha'ir, Hatzafon Hayashan (Planning Division, 1999 policy draught
A slightly different estimate of foreign worker concentration is given by Schnell
(1999b). According to him, the "core" foreign worker neighborhoods include the four
southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods plus Kerem Hateimanim, which is adjacent to the
city's central open market. Secondary foreign worker concentrations are found in Yafo
and central-northern Tel Aviv: Arab foreign workers reside in the mostly Arab
neighborhood of Ajami in Yafo, while foreign workers in domestic services and
geriatric services (especially Philippinos) reside in several central and northern Tel
Aviv neighborhoods where they are employed (Lev Ha'ir, Hatzafon Hayashan, Kikar
Hamedina, Bavli, Ramat Aviv and Neve Sharett). Some live at their employer's
residence, while others rent apartments together. Schnell estimates that some 10,000
migrant workers reside in Neve Sha'anan - Shapira, another 10,000 in the secondary
enclaves, and close to 10,000 more in the rest of the city.
The concentration of foreign workers in the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv has
several explanations. These neighborhoods have historically been characterized by
low socio-economic status, due in part to their location: bounded on the north by the
Central Business District and to the south by the old "no man's land" between Tel
Aviv and Yafo. The nearby Ayalon River, which used to flood and is today the
Ayalon Highway, is another reason for their low status as expressed in low residential
prices. Neve Sha'anan and Shapira are also known as the "stations area" due to the
location of Tel Aviv's old and new central bus terminals, which serve the entire
metropolitan area. The construction of the massive New Central Bus Station in Neve
Shaanan in the 1980s aggravated the physical and economic deterioration of these two
neighborhoods. Illegal migrants began settling in the "stations area" in the late 1980s
due to the low residential prices. Easy access to the adjacent Central Bus Stations also
proved an important asset for the migrant workers, engaged in domestic services for
houses throughout the metropolitan area. "Chain migration" based on the existing
social networks of migrants in these neighborhoods increased their popularity as a
destination for migrants.
From the mid-1980s to the mid 1990s Neve Sha'anan and Shapira had among the
highest negative migration rates in the city, due to the outflow of Israeli residents.20
As noted above, these neighborhoods still contain an unusually large percentage of
new immigrants who have not managed to integrate economically and socially in
Israel. From 1993 the settlement of foreign workers in these neighborhoods became
massive. The 1997 survey showed that 70% of the local population was foreign (not
including the Russian immigrants) in the area surveyed (Schnell 1999a).
Southern Tel Aviv also serves a broader population of foreign workers living and
working outside of the city. Many foreign workers live and work in isolated
construction sites and agricultural settlements. On weekends and holidays they come
to southern Tel Aviv to meet with fellow migrants, taking advantage of the national
bus network that converges at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. Some even hire
apartments together in Tel Aviv, to serve as their weekend homes.
In 1991, due to the settlement of Russian immigrants, there was a net increase of population, but in
the next years the negative trend returned, as those immigrants moved to better areas.
I.6 Organization and mobilization
The organization and mobilization of the migrant workers in Tel Aviv differs widely,
depending on nationality groups and the migrants' legal status, which are often linked.
Thus, the Africans and South Americans, most of whom are illegal, have developed a
wide variety of self-help and social organizations, while the Romanians (most of
whom are legal) have not. Unfortunately, there is no published listing of the migrants'
organizations, due to the generally precarious situation of migrant workers in Israel. 21
The one exception to the "undergound" nature of migrant workers' organizations is the
African Workers Union (AWU), which is an officially registered non-profit
organization (see below). The following descriptions are therefore based on field
research carried out over the past few years by a small number of researchers, social
workers and journalists who have dedicated themselves to the migrants' cause and
earned their trust (see below, "Relevant Research).
The African community is the most highly organized, having developed a large
number of self-help communitarian associations, which Kemp et. al. (2000) categorize
into three kinds of organizational networks: 1) socio-cultural organizations such as
churches, sports and music clubs; 2) national and regional origin-based associations;
3) rotating credit associations. To date, it is the only migrant community to have
created a supra-national organization, which serves as a means for political
mobilization (see Chapter 3).
Latino migrant organizations are mainly religious and sport, but also cultural,
associations (Kemp, 2000). The South American migrant community has
developed independent religious organizations, mostly Evangelist, supplementing the
established Catholic churches in Yafo (which hold weekly Latino meetings). Some of
the Latino religious organizations have established connections with the Arab
Protestant churches in Israel. Football teams and leagues are the other significant
Latino migrant institution.22 The weekly Saturday football games in a beachside park
in south Tel Aviv are accompanied by Latino food stalls and music, and also serve as
the central event for exchanging information and raising money through ad hoc fairs
and raffles. The Latino migrant community also has a variety of self-help, cultural and
recreational organizations, such as folklore ensembles and tertulias, informal
discussion gatherings on social and political issues relevant to the Latino community.
Two informal periodicals were published for a short period of time, as well as a book
(Madriz Lovera, 1997) about the Latino migrant community (Kemp et. al. 2000).
Several attempts to create a supra-national Latino association have failed, due to
personal rivalries, intrigues and power struggles. Following the success of the African
Workers Union, a Latin Workers Union (OTL) was established in 1998, with the
active support of Israeli social activists and academics. It was a fragile and short-lived
The illegal workers live in fear of arrest by the police and deportation (still the official government
policy toward all illegal migrants). The legal workers live in fear of their employers wrath should they
openly organize. Such attempts by the legal workers can often lead to dismissal of the leaders.
Dismissal from work means becoming illegal, as the Israeli law binds the work permit to a specific
employer, as noted before.
Teams are organized on a national basis, representing all the countries in South America. "Copa
America" and "Mundial" championships with other foreign workers' teams are taken seriously.
attempt, and after a series of police raids the OTL was abandoned. The Latino
community felt that the OTL's activities were responsible for an escalation in arrests
and deportations (Kemp et. al. 2000).
The East Asian migrants, mostly Philippino women, have also developed associations
centered around the organization of social activities on weekends and holidays (as
well as an annual foreigners' Beauty Queen contest). Philippino organizations also
include mutual help functions, such as raising money for emergency flights home.
Conversely, the "Thomsiani" organization in Tel Aviv was created to raise money
for victims in the Philippines following a volcanic eruption. Some of the organizations
take annual dues and issue membership cards, at least to the legal workers. Catholic
churches also provide a framework for mutual activities of the Philippino
community,which is mostly Catholic, such as visits to holy sites in Israel (Von
Breitenstein, 1999).
The other large migrant population in Tel Aviv, the Romanians, have no known
organization. This is apparently due to the short periods most spend in Israel, and the
fact that they are single men, many with families in Romania. Information on the
possibility of organizations among the other migrant communities in Tel Aviv is not
yet available.
II. Relevant Political Structures
II.1 National structures, legislation and policy regarding migrants
Israel is a highly centralized country, with most of the authority in the hands of the
governmental ministries. One cannot speak of "territorial organisation" of policies
regarding migrants in Israel -- there is up to now only national policy, and the specific
case of Tel Aviv. Several ministries are responsible for implementing (and largely
making) government policy concerning non-Jewish migrants. The ministries of Labor
and Interior, especially, are responsible for the number of migrants legally entering
the country and the conditions of their legal residence, as well as the deportation
policy for illegals. It should be noted that up to the last elections in May 1999, both
these ministries were in the hands of the orthodox party Shas, which is clearly
antagonistic to (non-Jewish) migrants. The relevant ministries are: 23
Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs - Includes the Employment Service which is
responsible for issuing permits to employers (allowing them to employ foreign
workers), and work permits to the workers. The Ministry also manages the
Foreign Workers Administration, an inter-ministerial body set up in 1996 to
coordinate government policy toward migrant workers, including determining the
"quota" of permits for each employment sector. The ministry's Enforcement Unit
is responsible for enforcing labor laws in Israel, including the wages, work and
Conspicuously absent here is the Ministry of Immigration Absorption, which is
responsible for Jewish immigrants.
living conditions of foreign workers.24 In reality the unit deals largely with
deportation of illegal workers.
Ministry of Interior - Controls border crossings. Issues residence permits to
migrants, in coordination with the Labor Ministry's work permits. Responsible for
determining the legal status of migrants in Israel.
Ministry of Internal Security - Includes the Police and the Prison Authority, which
are responsible for the arrests and containment of illegal workers until deportation.
Ministry of Health - Developed the criteria regarding sanitary conditions of
foreign workers' living conditions which employers must provide to their migrant
workers, according to the law (routinely violated).
Other relevant ministries include: Justice, and Education.
There are a number of laws which refer to the entry status and employment of migrant
workers, as well as the deportation of illegal workers.25 These laws grant broad
authority and discretion to the relevant ministries and authorities such as the
Employment Service, which means the issue is decided largely by ongoing
government policy. Since there is little published policy and the legislation is not
specific, much is left up to the decisions of government officials.
The previous nationalist (Likud-led) government had no "migrant policy" other than
deportation of illegal workers. From 1993 on quotas of permits for migrant workers
were set from time to time, with the employers (Building Contractors' Federation and
the agricultural lobby) pressing to enlarge the numbers, and pressures from the
Ministry of Interior to limit the number of migrant workers. Only in mid-1997 did the
government formally decide to reduce the number of migrant workers in Israel, setting
a goal of 1% of the labor force (17,500 workers) by 2002. The number of permits was
to be reduced each year, and a target of 1000 deportations per month was set for
reducing the number of illegal migrants. The number of deportations did grow, but
remained a fraction of the level intended (Fischer, 1999).
The new Labour-led government which came to power in June 1999 (and includes
several Orthodox and nationalist parties) has not yet outlined a clear policy stand
concerning the foreign workers. The results of the coalition-building have left the
Labor Ministry in the hands of the Orthodox Shas, but the new Interior Minister is
Nathan Sharansky, the former Jewish dissident and human rights activist, today leader
of the (nationalistic) Russian immigrants' party, Israel Ba'Aliya. It remains to be seen
what stand he will take vis-a-vis the foreign workers. Meanwhile, the Labor Ministry
continues its deportation policy (albeit halfheartedly), as well as reducing the number
of legal permits.
The labor laws (regarding minimum wage, working hours, etc.) apply equally to all workers in
Israel, whether Israeli or foreign, regardless of their legal status.
Employment Service Act (1959); Entry into Israel Act (1959); Foreign Workers (Unlawful
Employment) Act (1991).
II.2 Relation between local levels and other levels of government
Government policies are administered centrally from Jerusalem, and locally through
sectoral ministry heirarchies. Local authorities are responsible for the implementation
of policies at the local level (e.g. providing education and welfare services), as well as
for local planning, which still requires district-level approval from the relevant
ministries. In the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area there is no institutionalized form of
coordination between the local authorities, except for an organization of several cities
to deal with sewage disposal. A long-range plan for the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area,
commissioned by the Ministry of Interior, refers briefly to foreign workers as one of
several "unique populations" in the central cities, but makes no recommendations
concerning them (Lerman and Shahar, 1996).
Although local authorities in Israel are still weak vis-a-vis the national government,
Tel Aviv is relatively independent due to its economic centrality, which translates into
a high municipal income from local taxes. Thus, government payments accounted for
only some 12% of of the 1997 municipal budget. However, in Welfare, Education and
Health, the government's role in the municipal budget accounted for 45%, 31% and
22%, respectively (Statistical Yearbook 1997). This limits the city's autonomy in these
areas, which are important in local policy toward migrant residents.
The Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo is governed by a Mayor and municipal council
(31 members), elected for five-year terms. The current mayor Ron Huldai (Labour)
was elected in 1998 and rules with a coalition that includes 11 of the 12 parties in the
council. There is thus virtually no opposition, and municipal policy is decided by the
mayor, within the broad lines of coalition agreements. A majority vote in the city
council can oppose the mayor's policy, but this is rare. Normally, councillors busy
themselves with specific actions on their "chosen" issues, but have little influence on
the mayor.
The municipal bureaucracy is composed of "Administrations" (e.g. Social Services
Administration, City Engineer), which include "Divisions" (e.g. Welfare, Planning),
which are subdivided into Departments (e.g. South Tel Aviv Welfare Department,
Long-Term Planning Department). Specific service units are found in various
Divisions (e.g. the unit for Homeless, and the newly founded "MESILA - Aid and
Information Center for the Foreign Community" within the Social Services division).
The current mayor replaced the previous system, in which a city councillor oversaw
each Administration. Now the Adminstrations are headed by their top bureaucrat, who
reports directly to the mayor's appointed advisors. City councillors are left with
chairmanship of committees (e.g. the Welfare Committee) whose influence is
questionable. In sum, it is the mayor and his team who effectively make and run local
II.3 Municipal policies toward migrant workers in Tel Aviv
The previous city administration (1993-1998) deliberately steered away from official
recognition of the "foreign worker problem". The previous mayor had stated that the
city would adopt no policy regarding the local migrant population as long as
government policy was limited to importing legal workers and deporting illegal
migrants. Policy proposals raised from within the Planning and Welfare Divisions,
suggesting the recognition of a large, new population with specific needs that must be
addressed, whose concentration in the poorer southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods had
short- and long-term urban implications -- were ignored at the mayoral level. 26
Within the municipality, however, the Welfare, Public Health, and Education
Divisions, which dealt daily with needs of the migrant population, developed selective
treatment policies, with an emphasis on migrant children. Thus, municipal social
workers treated foreign clients in cases of clear danger, providing emergency welfare
treatment especially to children.27 In 1997 a municipal community worker was
assigned in the Welfare Division to deal specifically with the foreign worker
community. Municipal health services were closed to migrants -- except the
neighborhood "Mother-Infant Health Stations" which treated all applicants. In the
Neve Sha'anan station, foreigners accounted for over 60% of all cases at the station by
1998; in the Florentine station 44% of the clients were foreign (Welfare Division,
1999)28 Municipal public schools accepted migrant children (1674 enrolled in 1998)
based on international treaties that Israel signed, which require equal education for all
children regardless of parents' status. 29(Welfare Division, 1999). These informal,
selective treatment policies which began during the previous municipal term, continue
today -- with the addition of MESILA (see below).
Formal municipal policy toward migrants commenced after the election in 1998 of
Ron Huldai. The issue of the foreign population in Tel Aviv was raised for the first
time in the November 1998 local elections, by then candidate Huldai, following a
series of articles on the issue, in the local newspaper Ha'ir ("The New Tel Avivians,"
July 1997 - July 1998). Huldai noted the humanistic side of the problem but made no
specific promises. In February 1999 the Welfare Division organized a half-day
seminar on the foreign worker phenomenon, at which the new mayor and his City
Manager spoke. Shortly after, the mayor set up a municipal Forum on Foreign
Workers, chaired by his appointed City Manager. The Forum operates as an advisory
body to the Mayor on all issues regarding the migrant population in the city, and is
intended to formulate municipal policy and coordinate the various municipal bodies
dealing with the local migrant population. It includes representatives of the relevant
municipal departments, as well as an academic advisor. It excludes representatives
of local NGOs and the migrant communities.
The primary change in municipal policy toward the migrant community has been the
establishment by mayoral decision, of MESILA - the municipal "Aid and Information
Center for the Foreign Community in Tel-Aviv-Yafo". The centre was opened in July
1999 in Neve Sha'anan with a part-time staff of five, and has begun providing
information, counselling and referral services to migrants, as well as outreach efforts
to the various ethnic communities. It is also intended to provide the municipality with
These included several policy proposal papers by the author (Long-Term Planning Department,
1996) and a comprehensive report on foreign workers prepared in the Welfare Division, 1996.
According to a 1996 Welfare Division report on foreign workers, municipal "procedures" require
Israeli citizenship to be eligible for help (although the Welfare Services Law does not mention
nationality or citizenship). Therefore, municipal social workers treat each foreigner that applies to them
according to the danger in which the social worker estimates the case, directing the client to the
relevant source of help, usually their embassy (Welfare Division, 1996).
In July 1996, 1168 foreign clients were treated at "Mother-Infant Health Stations throughout the city.
This rose to 1951 cases by January 1999.
Unlike Israeli children, however, the Ministry of Education does not cover the municipality's costs of
foreign children's education. Tel Aviv Municipality covers these costs by itself.
an ongoing connection to the foreign community, to better understand the needs of the
various migrant populations. In its first two months of operation MESILA has
established contact with migrant community leaders, established a working
relationship with the various NGOs dealing with foreign workers, and begun building
a data base on the foreign community. 30 MESILA is the first of its kind in Israel.
Beyond MESILA, Tel Aviv's formal municipal policy is still undecided. At the time
of writing, two policy proposal papers are being prepared for the Forum. One by the
Long-Term Planning Department refers primarily to physical policy toward the "Core
Area" of the migrant neighborhood. A social policy proposal is supposed to be
prepared separately. MESILA's mandate also includes formulation of policy proposals
for the Forum, but within two months of opening it is too early to begin this work. At
this point, it is not at all clear whether a formal municipal policy toward its migrant
community will indeed develop in Tel Aviv. The first criticisms are being heard
within the municipality against the opening of MESILA, a new municipal service for
foreigners, at a time when budget cuts are limiting the operation of existing services to
Israelis. Foreign workers in Tel Aviv have not yet become an issue in the city
council, but this may happen as the battle over budget cuts heats up.
II.4 Participatory frameworks for immigrants/ethnic minorities
To date, there are no formal participatory frameworks for the migrant communities in
Tel Aviv (nor elsewhere in Israel). MESILA has initiated a series of meetings with
migrant representatives (AWU leaders, pastors in the Latino community, etc.), in an
effort to break down the suspicion that the (mostly illegal) foreign workers in Tel
Aviv feel in regard to all official institutions. In addition, AWU representatives have
met several times with municipal planners, and were invited at least once to address a
meeting on social issues within the municipality. However, it is not known whether
the policy proposals currently being drawn up for the municipal Forum on Foreign
Workers will suggest to formalize the participation of migrants in any way.
Local-level political participation by the migrant worker community in Tel Aviv is
thus still at the initial stage.
III. Case group: The African Community
III.1 History and organizational characteristics
The African migrant community31 is the largest and oldest in Tel Aviv, as well as the
most well organized. Up to now, it is the only (non-Jewish) migrant community to
have also mobilized politically, taking its first steps in the Israeli public arena in the
past two years (Kemp et. al., 2000). As nearly all the African migrants in Israel are
illegal, having entered on tourist or student visas and then remained to work without
permits, it is extremely difficult at this stage to obtain quantitative data, and we are
left only with estimates of the size of the community. According to the Ministry of
Labor, Africans account for some 15% of the illegal migrant workers in Israel, i.e.
between ten to twenty thousand (of which the majority reside in Tel Aviv). However,
the latest estimates by the Municipality of Tel Aviv regarding the total migrant worker
population in the city -- up to 25,000 -- mean that the number of Africans in Tel Aviv
is under 10,000.
The African migrants in Tel Aviv come mostly from Ghana and Nigeria, but also
from Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), the Republic of Congo, Central
African Republic, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mauritius and South Africa.
Unlike other receiving countries, Israel did not have a colonial relationship with
Africa that could account for the origin of the African migrant community. However,
Israel did establish warm ties in the 1950s and 1960s with a considerable number of
African states, e.g. Ghana and Ivory Coast. The relationship expanded to include
academic, technological and cultural exchange programs, as well as military aid and
Israeli investments in Africa. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War the African states
cut off diplomatic ties, but informal ties continued and were officially re-established
in the 1990s (Abessira, 1999). The influence of these ties on the African migrant
worker movement to Israel is unclear. Kemp, et. al. (2000) note the "informal
recruitment" of Africans by Israelis working in African countries, for domestic
The other path of entry by Africans to Israel has been through pilgrimage. For many
of the African migrants in Israel, the Holy Land with its biblical connotations has
made Israel a target country with an "added spiritual value" beyond the economic
factor. This also strengthens the motivation for chain migration and family
unification, as is clear from talks with many African migrant workers. Pilgrimage also
serves as a convenient "cover" for Africans coming to Israel, with the aim of visiting
the holy sites, and then staying on to work. For Israel the economic, but especially the
political, importance of pilgrimage makes it difficult to severely curtail the flow of
tourists from Africa in an attempt to limit illegal immigration.
African associations in Tel Aviv are organized on national and regional lines, the
oldest being of the Ghanaians, the most veteran migrant workers' community in Tel
Aviv. Other associations include those of migrants from Nigeria, Democratic
We do not include within this definition foreign workers from the Maghreb (e.g. Moroccans), whose
characteristics place them within the category of Arab migrants in Tel Aviv.
Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Mauritius
Island. There is also a regional-tribal association of the Manding people. The
supra-national African Workers Union, established in 1997, represents the only
pan-African, political association (see below). (Kemp et. al. 2000)
African self-help organizations are patterned after the "village association" (ibid.).
Rotating credit associations, based on non-formal arrangements of mutual aid and
trust, provide money and loans to members in times of need (health problems, special
occasions such as marriages, and emergencies including flights home). Social life
focuses around churches, and pastors play an important role in community life.
Dozens of "underground" African churches of various denominations operate in
southern Tel Aviv. Schnell's (1999a) survey noted at least 11 churches in Neve
Sha'anan alone. In addition to their religious functions, the churches serve as
organizational bases for community activities such as trips and holidays as well as
weekly sermons and discussions on the Africans' situation in Israel. The education, or
rather babysitting, of infants and children is organized by mothers who cannot go out
to work, in rented apartments and even in basement bomb shelters.32 According to the
Welfare Division (1999), there are at least two dozen such informal kindergartens, as
well as one African community "school" with 26 children between ages 3-12. Fear of
arrest and deportation remains the underlying reason for the underground nature of the
African organizations.
III.2 Political Mobilisation
The African Workers Union (AWU) was founded in July 1997, in reaction to the
deportation policy implemented in Spring 1997. Leaders in the African commuity at
first tried, unsuccessfully, to petition the Supreme Court claiming violation of human
rights. A series of informal meetings with Israeli parliament (Knesset) members,
mediated by a journalist who had been covering the plight of the migrant workers in
the local newspaper, led to a formal invitation to nine leaders of the African
community to visit the Knesset.33 At this meeting the Africans were encouraged to
create "an official body of the African Community to work together with the Law
Makers to come up with an honorable solution to government policy regarding
migrant workers in Israel" (AWU newsletter, August 1999). Following this meeting,
the migrants submitted a policy proposal on the status of the African migrant
community in Israel,34 and decided on the creation of the African Workers Union as
the body that would represent the entire African community. In an unusual move
(aided legally by a Knesset member), the organization whose members and leadership
are overwhelmingly illegal migrants, was officially registered in Israel as a non-profit
These are characterized by sub-standard conditions (overcrowded, lacking fresh air and light) that
often endanger the childrens health. This has become one of the main points of concern for the
Municipality's MESILA center as well as NGOs and the press involved in raising the plight of the
African migrant community in Tel Aviv.
Kemp et. al. (2000) note the important role played by Israeli human rights activists, including the
journalist Einat Fishbein, of the local Ha'ir newspaper, in encouraging and facilitating the political
activity of the African migrants.
The policy proposal submitted by the AWU to the Knesset committee demanded the regulation of
African workers' status, including work visas for three to five years, participation in welfare services
such as social security and national health insurance, and the right to freely enter and exit the country.
The proposal explicitly suggested "to the Government of Israel to formulate a policy regarding the
Africans' employment in Israel." (Kemp et. al. 2000).
organization (September 1997). In October a gathering was called to announce to the
African community the foundation of the AWU, at which religious and lay
commuity leaders gave their support to the organization and approved the policy
proposal (Lukumu, 1997; Kemp et. al. 1999).
The AWU is characterized by quite a formal, bureaucratic structure which also
typifies many of the African migrant community organizations. The self-appoined
leadership includes a chairman, vice-chairman, general secretary, treasurer,
spokesman, etc. Although there is no formal mechanism of national representation,
the positions are held by people (all men) from various different countries in Africa.
According to the AWU newsletter (August 1999), the current leadership "plans to
establish definitive structures of the organization" including an Executive Committee,
a Council of Representatives, and Admnistration. To this end, general elections are
planned in December 1999. Interestingly for an organization of illegal migrants who
live under threat of arrest and deportation, the AWU requires members to register and
pay dues, and issues union "ID cards."
The AWU's three main goals (AWU newsletter, 1999) are:
 In the short term, to limit systematic deportation;
 in the medium term, "to solicit the help of Israelis of good will in a (sic) political
activism, in order to find an honorable solution to the presence of Africans in
 In the long term, to achieve "limited legal status for all migrant Africans" in Israel.
Beyond the stated political goals, the organization's aim is to provide a "common
umbrella which will provide assistance and services" to all African workers.
(Lukumu, 1997). In its first two years of existence, the organization has become an
accepted player in the public debate on migrants in Israel. AWU leaders have met
with over thirty Knesset members in an effort to secure support for favorable
legislation, especially regarding illegal migrants. 35 Visits to the Neve Sha'anan
neighborhood, the heart of the African community, were arranged for Knesset
At the local level, the AWU arranged visits for municipal officials, including the
previous mayor of Tel Aviv, and helped to organize a symposium in Tel Aviv on the
deportation policy. In public forums on migrants in Tel Aviv, if foreign workers are
invited to speak it always AWU spokesmen. When the Tel Aviv Municipality
ceremoniously opened the "Aid and Information Center for the Foreign Community"
in July 1999, it appeared natural that the migrant community should be represented by
the AWU. Other AWU activities include lectures at the four main universities in
Israel to solicit support of the academic community, and a meeting with the Secretary
General of Amnesty International during his visit in Israel.
Supportive Knesset members tend to be from the Left side of the political
spectrum, but include not a small number from the Right. According to the AWU, a
letter sent to then Prime Minister Netanyahu was followed by "a significant drop in
the number of Africans deported after this appeal…" Altogether, AWU leaders have
made five trips to the Knesset. (AWU newsletter, 1999)
This activism is actively aided by the four main NGOs dealing with the foreign
worker phenomenon: Kav La'Oved - Workers Hotline (the most veteran organization
in this field); the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Physicians for Human Rights
(operates an infirmary for migrants in southern Tel Aviv); and the newly established
Hotline for Migrant Workers in Prison. All are based in Tel Aviv, and all have a good
working relationship with the AWU. Kav La'Oved - Workers Hotline provides office
space for the AWU's administrative activities.
Perhaps most importantly, AWU leaders have raised the plight of the African
migrants before the Israeli public using all forms of the media, in newspaper, radio
and television interviews.36 Kemp et. al. (2000) note the use by the AWU of "two
major themes explicitly aimed at mobilizing Israeli public opinion and support…"
The first relates to the "valorization of personhood" (Soysal, 1994), that is, claiming
rights divorced from national membership. The more prominent theme recurring in
the African migrants' plea to Israeli public opinion is to depict themselves as a
"community of suffering." This theme touches Israelis at the universal level, but also
deliberately speaks to the Jewish conscience, as parallels are drawn between the
hardships suffered by the African migrant community in Israel today, and those of the
Jewish people when they were an unprotected minority in the diaspora. The African
migrant community, through the AWU, appears to be using this theme quite
How far the African community in Tel Aviv has advanced in the last two years, could
be noticed at the ceremonial opening of the municipal MESILA center in July 1999.
The opening speeches of the mayor, the director of the Welfare Services Division, and
the AWU representative, all referred to biblical values on the universality of men
("created in the image of God") and biblical admonitions to aid and defend 'the
strangers among us.' A few weeks later, the newly appointed Minister for Internal
Security visited the center, and talked with AWU representatives. Such a meeting,
between the minister in charge of the police, and leaders of an officially illegal
migrant community, would have been unthinkable two years ago.
AWU spokesmen, using elegant English mixed with Hebrew expressions, convey a positive image
of the African migrant community that breaks the stereotype of "illegals." The official spokesman
speaks fluent Hebrew.
IV. Relevant Research
As noted above, non-Jewish migrants are a new phenomenon in Israel. The settlement
of migrant workers in Tel Aviv begun a decade ago, and became a noticeable factor in
the city only in the mid-1990s. It is thus not surprising that there is still little published
research on the phenomenon. In the last 2-3 years, however, work has begun by a
number of academic as well as governmental researchers. This research is beginning
to bear fruit and a picture of the situation regarding the foreign workers in Israel, and
in Tel Aviv in particular, is emerging.
At the national level, the Ministry of Labor's research unit (the Manpower Planning
Authority) and the Central Bureau of Statistics are slowly systematizing the collection
of data on the amount and characteristics of foreign workers in Israel. The first book
devoted to the phenomenon of foreign workers in Israel (R. Nathanson and L. Achdut,
eds.) was published this year. It is actually a collection of several studies, including
chapters on the construction sector, the agricultural sector, the role of manpower
companies, the Philippino community, etc. Another book (to be edited by E. Cohen) is
due to come out next year, including chapters on the African, Latino, Philippino and
Thai communities in Israel, the outcome of research by sociologists from several
Israeli universities. It is unclear to what extent the chapters will focus on Tel Aviv.
Schnell (1999b) has recently completed an analysis of the foreign worker situation in
Israel, based on a summary of the existing material (with the author), to appear in a
forthcoming book on social policies in Israel. The chapter will emphasize the
macro-economic aspect of the foreign worker phenomenon and policy implications.
At the local level, the only comprehensive analyses of migrant communities in Tel
Aviv available at the time of writing, were by Schnell (1999a, see below), and Kemp,
Raijman, Resnik and Gessner (2000). The latter is an article (to be published January
2000) which focuses on the African and Latino migrants' political participation. Kemp
et. al.'s field research is also part of the ongoing project noted above (coordinated by
E. Cohen and Z. Rozenheck of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), on migrant
worker communities in Israel.
Two field surveys have been carried out on foreign workers in Tel Aviv. Schnell,
(1999a), conducted a house-to-house survey in 1997 encompassing 5018 migrant
workers. The survey covered 75% of the area of Neve Sha'anan, the main foreign
workers' neighborhood. The survey measured a) the residential pattern of the foreign
workers, and b) Israeli residents' attitudes toward foreign workers. A smaller survey
by Schnell's team investigated the social sphere of foreign workers. This was part of a
more comprehensive analysis by Schnell of the urban dynamics of the foreign worker
settlement in southern Tel Aviv. Bar Zuri (1999), conducted a survey of 340 illegal
workers in Tel Aviv, with questionnaires at several "meeting points" in the city, such
as the central bus station, cafes, etc. The survey dealt with modes of entry into Israel,
illegal workers' backgrounds, expectations, etc. Bar Zuri's survey is intended to be the
first in an annual survey of undocumented workers commissioned by the Manpower
Planning Authority.
Two foreign workers have written on their communities: Madriz Lovera (1997) wrote
a personal account of the Latino migrant experience in Israel, and Lukumu (1997
unpublished) described the African community. Other, ongoing sociological/
anthropological research on migrant communities in Tel Aviv has not yet been
completed (e.g. Harel, S., M.A. thesis on the African community in Tel Aviv).
The Municipality of Tel Aviv has not itself commissioned any systematic research on
the local migrant community, since the 1996 report by the Welfare Division.
However, MESILA, the municipal "Aid and Information Center for the Foreign
Community" has begun collecting data on the foreign worker community in Tel Aviv,
from primary as well as all secondary sources available (the author is responsible for
this task).
Dr. Itzhak Schnell and the author of this paper have presented a research proposal, to
conduct a survey of foreign worker concentrations beyond the Neve Sha'anan
neighborhood. The proposal was submitted to the National Lottery's Sapir Fund, in
the framework of research proposals with urban policy applications (decision to be
announced by end of 1999). Such a survey would complete the partial picture of
foreign worker settlement in Tel Aviv, provided by Schnell's 1997 Neve Sha'anan
* = in Hebrew
Abessira, Y. (1998), "Israel's Rural Cooperation Programs in Africa: Retrospective
and Analysis (1958-1977)," M.A. thesis, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.*
African Workers Union, Newsletter, August 1999. Tel Aviv.
Bar-Zuri, R. (1999), "Foreign Workers without Permit in Israel, 1998," Jerusalem:
Ministry of Labor and Welfare, Manpower Planning Authority.*
Fischer, H. (1999) "Foreign Workers - Current Situation, Formal Framework and
Government Policy," in Nathanson and Achdut (eds.) The New Workers - Wage
Earners from Foreign Countries in Israel, Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad.*
Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Workshop on Wage Earners from Foreign Countries, Tel
Aviv, 8/5/97.
Ha'ir (Tel Aviv weekly newspaper), "The New Tel Avivians," series of articles by
Einat Fishbein, July 1997 - July 1998.*
Kemp, A., Raijman, R., Resnik, J. and S. Gesser, "Contesting the Limits of Political
Participation - Latinos and Black African Migrant Workers in Israel," (to be
published Jan. 2000), Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 23-1.
Lerman, R. and A. Shahar (1996), "Development Policy Principles for Tel Aviv
Metropolitan Area," Vol.1, Intermediate Report #2, The Institute for Urban and
Regional Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. *
Lukumu, M. (1997), "Migrant Workers in Israel - with Insight on Black Africans,"
unpublished research paper, Public Policy Program, Tel Aviv University.
Madriz Lovera, F. (1997), Latinoamericanos en Israel, Tel Aviv: Aurora.
Menahem, G. (1993), "Urban Economic and Spatial Restructuring and Absorption of
Immigrants," paper presented at International workshop on immigrant absorption,
Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, May 1993.
Ministry of Labor and Welfare, Manpower Planning Authority, "Foreign Workers in
Israel - Statistical Report for 1997," Presentation transparencies for Caesaria
Conference, June 1998.*
Schnell, I. (1999a), Foreign Workers in Southern Tel Aviv-Yafo, Jerusalem: The
Florsheimer Institute for Policy Studies.*
" (1999b), "Incorporation of the Foreign Workers in Israel," unpublished
report for the Center for Social Policy Research in Israel, Jerusalem.*
Soysal, Y. (1994), The Limits of Citizenship, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
State Comptroller (1996), 1995 Annual Report, No. 46, Jerusalem: State
Tel-Aviv-Yafo Municipality, Center for Economic and Social Research (1998),
Statistical Yearbook 1997. *
Tel-Aviv-Yafo Municipality, Planning Division, Long-Term Planning Department:
"The Foreign Worker Phenomenon and Urban Implications - Municipal Policy
Background Paper," (draught) 1999.*
"Districts in Tel-Aviv-Yafo -- Planning Data," 1998. *
"Tel Aviv - Mediterranean Metropolis," 1996.
"Historical Survey of Master Plans," Tel-Aviv-Yafo Master Plan Report #2, 1995.*
Tel-Aviv-Yafo Municipality, Welfare Services Division:
"Foreign Workers in Tel-Aviv-Yafo 1999," presentation transparencies.*
"Foreign Citizen Workers in T.A.-Yafo," draught report, 1996.*
Von Breitenstein, T. (1999), "The Philippino Workers in Israel," in Nathanson, R.
and L. Achdut (eds.) The New Workers - Wage Earners from Foreign Countries in
Israel, Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad.*
Related flashcards
Labour law

38 Cards

Labour lawyers

18 Cards

Create flashcards