- Fatma Elsayed
The Sudanese "Problem"
Despite the widespread opposition of its citizens, Sudan decided to normalize relations with Israel in 2021, alongside several other countries in the Arabic speaking world. Each country was offered its own set of deals in exchange for cooperation with the Zionist state, such as recognition of the Western Sahara for Morocco and a significant arms deal for the UAE. In the case of Sudan, which is riddled with economic and political instability, the desperate need for foreign aid and support compelled it to normalize relations with Israel.
Before normalization, Sudan was one of a handful of countries on the United States' list of states that sponsor terrorism, and was desperate to clear its debts with the World Bank. The normalization quid pro quo entailed pulling Sudan out of the list, and numerous relaxations on its crippling debts. Sudan reached a total of $15 billion of debt relief with normalization, including $5 billion in relief from France, $9.4 billion being rescheduled by the Paris Group, and $1.4 billion from the International Monetary Fund.
Yet the exchange entailed more than normalization. An additional sacrifice for Sudan, that was largely pushed under the rug and ignored in media coverage of the normalization deal, were the millions of Sudanese refugees in Israel who were at risk of deportation once relationships between the two nations were "resolved". In fact, normalization only exacterabated the racist othering of Sudanese refugees in Israel, and made Sudanese refugees the latest victim of Zionism's less-than-inclusive ideology.
"There was some expectation here that if there were an agreement with Sudan, then there would be planes at the airport and they'd all get on and go back to Sudan" was how Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef described the discourse surrounding Sudanese refugees in Israel after normalization with Sudan. This is not an expectation of peace, but of separation; Sudanese refugees are simply reduced to "they" in a nation that prides itself in being one of the region's few democracies—a falsehood intended for the west's stamp of approval.
Anti-Black racism is ingrained in both the social and political fabric of Israel. Sudanese refugees are feared and demonized on a widespread scale. In a 2012 survey of the Israel Democracy Insitute's Peace Index, results showed that approximately 65.2% of respondents were "greatly disturbed" by Sudanese job seekers. This systemic racism is further evident in another survey, indicating that 52% of Jewish Israelis had identified with a comment made by Israeli politician MK Miri Regev comparing migrants from Africa to "a cancer in the body". The recurring theme of describing migrants as a disease, something to be protected from and avoided at all costs, reflects the fear and aversion amongst Israelis towards the "other". Members of Israeli Knesset like former MK Michael Ben-Ari use language of disease to lament how "A fourth grader [Israel girl] is studying in the same class with infiltrators' kids, that you don't know what diseases they are carrying."
Zionist rhetoric normalizes the act of comparing Black migrants to a contagion as Zionism relies on some degree of othering to achieve the goal of upholding the White Jewish state. While common discourse tends to draw the axis of conflict between Muslim and Jewish communities, or Arab and Israeli communities, there is a racial element at play that intentionally harms Black communities, irrespective of ethnic or religious background. In fact, it is more about race, than about religion.
In addition to the violent exclusion and genocide of Palestinians, Zionism is ideologically and linguistically intended to exclude any population that does not fit the characteristics of both Jewish and white from Israeli society. We see similar histories of racism against Black Jewish populations in Israel, such as the Ethiopian Jewish community. Notably, in the 1990s there was a blood donation scandal where hospitals allegedly threw out blood donated from Ethiopian Jewish people out of fear that they had HIV, and in 2015 there was a wave of anti-police brutality protests by the Ethiopian Jewish community to address the systemic discrimination taking place after a video surfaced of an Ethiopian soldier being beaten by a cop.
Nevertheless, the racism and Zionism of Israel does not deter Arab nations, including Sudan, from cooperating with Israel politically. In fact, after Benjamin Netanyahu's recent electoral victory, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan congratulated Netanyahu and expressed how he "look[s] forward to continuing our cooperation to promote relations in all areas for the benefit of peoples in the two countries". The Sudanese government is intentionally ignoring the after-effects of normalization. Normalization gives Israel a blank check to racially discriminate against and other-ize Sudanese refugees seeking asylum within the country. To fully confront the racist underpinnings of Zionism as an ideology that powers Israel’s occupation, it is crucial to recognize how Sudanese refugees are harmed by normalization and how Zionism harms Black people in Israel at large.