Battle lines were marked clearly.
On one side, behind flimsy police tape, were the “leftists.” On the other, the “right wingers.” Separating them was a two-meter-wide path patrolled by clusters of bored-looking police officers.
Until he arrived.
On Tuesday, Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, tweeted an invitation for all to join him on Wednesday evening at Shapira Park in south Tel Aviv.
The area has become a flashpoint for myriad racial and socioeconomic issues, creating the perfect milieu for Ben Gvir, a provocateur extraordinaire. Since the founding of the state, south Tel Aviv has been dominated by poorer Jews who are overwhelmingly of Sephardic and Middle Eastern origin. In the last 20 years or so significant numbers of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have settled in the neighborhood, causing periodic flare-ups of tension and, at times, violence.
Many Jewish residents are angry, saying that their neighborhoods have been overrun by a population that is mostly in Israel illegally. They point to higher crime rates, which is a fact, among other changes for the worse. As with any urban tension, it’s complicated.
The asylum seekers, typically referred to as a monolith, have children. They attend neighborhood schools, leading to clashes of culture, language, tolerance and more. And this is exactly why Itamar Ben Gvir chose this patch of Tel Aviv to make a much broader point.
Shapira Park, in the heart of south Tel Aviv, is in Ben Gvir’s world, “occupied” territory that he will reclaim for Israel.