So much for remembering our history; farewell to compassion. Those were my thoughts after reading the news this week that Israel officially began its plan to expel thousands of African immigrants, many of whom claim to be seeking political asylum. On Monday, 115 Africans—mostly from South Sudan, which came into being only recently, after the horrors of Darfur—were arrested by the Israeli police. Another 73 were detained at the Israeli border. That is only the beginning of the plan to deport some 4,500 Africans under the Orwellian plan called Operation Going Home, created by the conservative government’s interior minister, Eli Yishai. A member of the religious Shas party, Yishai also called the poor Tel Aviv suburb where many of the immigrants live “a garbage can.”

The worry of guys like Yishai is that the Africans will dilute Israel’s Jewish character. I find that idea deeply offensive, even though I fully understand the broader issue of wanting Israel to retain a strong Jewish majority (though I take issue with it still). But what this whole African issue really underscores is just how problematic Israel’s strict ethnic definition of a “Jewish state” is: to remain in control of their own affairs, Israel will have to effectively get in the business of ethnic cleansing. One hopes this ethnic cleansing never turns into the bloody affair it has in so many other countries—but all we can do is hope. Jewish-Muslim violence is all too real, and it doesn’t take difficult leaps of the imagination to imagine a bloody racial war. Already, racial violence flared up in Israel last week, when Israeli thugs set on fire an apartment full of Eritreans.

This paper, in an editorial last week, noted that there are honorable Jewish NGOs, like Jewish Hearts for Africa and Israel at Heart, that have been fighting hard for the rights of Israel’s African population—which stands at 60,000, in a country of about 7 million. But so long as an attitude of conservative ethnic tribalism dominates Israel’s politics, the voices of those noble NGOs will be merely perfunctory. They’ll be foisted up as an duplicitous example of the democratic nature of a state that, in reality, increasingly shows signs of not knowing what that means. Jews should know better—after all, we were in a position not unlike those Africans not more than 70 years ago. Forced out of homes by ruthless bigots, then left out in the cold by almost everyone else.