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The Ugly Head of Racism

Racism in America, and the constant chopping of its ugly head – which nonetheless keep rising anew, as if out of an old mythical dragon – is an old story. But racism in Israel seems like a new phenomenon. Or is it?… I remember in my youth, when visiting my relatives in the city, how bewildered I was – a naïve kibbutznik in my early teens – upon hearing them, all Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe, using frequently the word “Shvartza.” “Black” (or the “N” word) in Yiddish. Especially once, when a cousin of mine got engaged, I remember an old uncle leaning down and whispering in my ear with a disdain tone in his voice that he was “Shvartza,” the bridegroom. Another words, he was Sephardik, a Jew from an Arabic, or North African descent. I was baffled, since I grew up in the kibbutz where there was no such distinctions, and I never heard such sentiments – racist remarks, let’s be clear about it – being voiced.

But in today’s Israel, as evident by occurrences happening at an accelerated frequency lately, these sentiments have been raising the ugly head of racism at an alarming rate, and from some unexpected corners of life, to boot. To mention but a few such cases, let’s start with the “Rabbis Letter.” Dozens of municipal rabbis endorsed and signed a letter that “urged Jews not to rent or sell homes to non-Jews.” One of the rabbis even took issue with those who called on the Prime Minister to dismiss the municipal rabbis who signed the letter, noting that he had not heard these intellectuals objecting to what he termed the “racism” of secular Jews, who demonstrated against allowing ultra-Orthodox Jews to move into Ramat Aviv, a predominantly secular neighborhood in Tel Aviv. So there you have it: rabbis forbidding non-Jews from living in certain places, and secular Jews doing likewise to orthodox Jews.

Another disturbing development, with clear racist overtones, is the attempt to deport from Israel the non-Jews children of immigrants’ workers, mainly from Tel Aviv. Even President Shimon Peres voiced criticism of a government decision to expel 400 children born in Israel to illegal immigrants. “It is unthinkable to expel 400 children born in Israel, who feel Israeli and who live like Israelis,” Peres said. Added Ehud Barak: “The scenes involving police officers raiding the homes of foreign workers and forcefully removing children, of prison guards holding families in jails, and of inspectors leading Hebrew-speaking children and putting them up on airplanes – these will all cause us irreparable damage.” It already has.

Another similar case, as reported in Haaretz (the main source for most of the information included in this article): “Residents of south Tel Aviv who have suffered for years from poverty, crime and prostitution have been working for some time to get (the) refugees expelled from their neighborhoods. The rhetoric they employ has succeeded in misleading and blinding many people who in more clearheaded times would label such talk as pure racism.” At the same time, “illegal immigrants living in the Pardes Katz neighborhood of Bnei Brak say they have been ordered to leave town immediately. The migrants told Haaretz that in recent days municipal inspectors, accompanied by other government officials, notified them that foreigners are not allowed to live in Bnei Brak.” Come again, are you serious?!…
Apparently so. And to top it all, though the High Court of Israel has strongly condemned the practice of “segregation,” whereby ultra-Orthodox women board buses through the back door and sit separately from the men at the back of the buses – Rosa Parks, anybody? – as they were conditioned to do, the transportation minister is still pondering whether to accept the recommendations of “investigation committee” that recommended to abolish this disgraceful practice. Add to that the refusal of some overly religious West Bank settlements of Ashkenazi descent to allow their children to study and interact with Sephardik children, and you get the picture of what’s been going on in all corners of life lately in Israel. Throw in the mix the recent debate whether to launch a government sponsor investigation into the activity of left leaning political organizations and parties, and what do you have?

You have a state in disarray with itself. The compass has fallen down from the deck and the ship is lost at sea. What’s next, one is almost too afraid to ask and answer. Because these new development are like ominous road signs that Israel is heading in the wrong direction. We – Israelis and Jewish people living abroad alike – better stop and read them, and then change course. Otherwise, the future of Israel, with its modern Jewish character and its democracy, is in serious peril.


One Response

  1. Hillel:
    Always the sky is falling. Look up and you can see it still beautiful. I hear what you are saying, but the appropriate term is bigotry. Bias will never go away. It will always be with us. Would you hire a Palestinian handyman to come into your house? Would you his wife a key to your house if she were a maid? Knowing you, I hear your defiant YES. But what if he was “ex” Hamas?

    Bias will always be here. Maybe we should be teaching our children how to recognize when it sneeks out and then how to manage thse emotions.

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