April 14, 2013


Israel at war with itself: Is it getting real? (Gila Green, APRIL 12, 2013, Times of Israel)

It's painful for me to admit that in my adopted hometown of Beit Shemsh, every year I'm a little less free. As recently as 2006, the only public route I had to Bar Ilan University was a privately run, women-at-the-back bus. I used to laugh at the absurdity of my reality. Twice weekly, I sat in the back half of a bus for twenty minutes while the driver simultaneously puffed away and filled up with illegal gas from a pump that seemingly arose out of the ground. I spent the time imagining all of us (modestly) blowing sky high.

I don't know when I realized it, but at some point I understood that this behavior was not something marginal but rather a force that wished to wind its way into every facet of my life with a desire to expand. And, slowly, it has.

In 2011 I whimsically chose then-journalist Yair Lapid as the prime minister I wanted to make a cameo appearance in my satiric novel "King of the Class," which takes the country's deep internal divisions to their logical dystopian conclusion. I remember my first readers' puzzled expressions: Who is Yair Lapid? No one's asking that question anymore. Last year a government sans Haredim (whether you think it's a good or bad thing) was unimaginable. Today, it's obvious that the last coalition negotiations were based on keeping the Haredim out of the government for the first time ever.

"King of the Class" is set in the near future in a post-civil war Israel that is split into two states, the religious fundamentalist state of Shalem and the militant secular state of Israel. When I wrote my novel a Jewish civil war was a fringe idea. Today, the possibility of such a scenario is an all too common refrain in Israeli media. We are getting closer to a place my great grandparents never imagined living in, a place where the real enemy is not without, but within.

On Zionism, racism and fear (SHLOMIT HARROSH, 04/14/2013, Jerusalem Post)

Motivating this racism of exclusion are three principal fears. The first is existential fear, clearly expressed by Ron, a Jerusalem high school student, in a recent interview.

"There is a small part within every Arab, even those who say they want to live with us in peace, that can without warning jump on you and stab you with a knife. There is nothing you can do about it: In their roots they are against Jews."

According to this view, Arabs are fundamentally untrustworthy, constituting a constant "security threat."

They are the enemy. This applies to all Israeli Arabs, regardless of citizenship or how they come across as individuals.

Not surprisingly, Ron does not want to see Arabs in the public sphere: "not in the streets, not at the mall, not on the light rail."

But is it right to call this racism? Not according to Nir, another high school student, for whom "racism is when you hate a person without reason." 

His hatred for Arabs is well-grounded, he thinks. He simply doesn't feel safe around them. "They brought it upon themselves, with all the terror attacks," Nir explains. "Because they are here, part of my life is ruined."

The fear motivating these attitudes and beliefs is understandable, yet it is nevertheless irrational and racist, as are the reactions themselves. It is irrational because according to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) the involvement of Israeli Arabs in terrorist attacks remains "relatively minor."

To fear all Israeli Arabs because of the subversive or violent actions of a few is as irrational as it would be for a woman to fear all men because of the sexual assaults committed by some men. Such fear is also racist, for it presupposes that "in their roots" all Arabs hate Jews, thereby promoting the stigmatization and penalization of individuals based solely on group membership.

The heart of racism is not gratuitous hatred, but Manichean essentialism. Modern racism is based on the belief that members of a certain group - whether racial, cultural, national, religious, or some other belonging - possess features that warrant hostility and discrimination and, most important, that these features are rigid and unchangeable, resulting in unbridgeable differences between "us" and "them" so that "there is nothing you can do about it," as Ron said, except separate the two groups.

Minimizing contact between Jews and Arabs also responds to the second motivation underlying the racism of exclusion - the fear of miscegenation. As one person put it, "My blood freezes when I see an Arab man talking to a Jewish girl."

This is not simply the ancient Jewish aversion to assimilation. Nor is it simply concern for the girl's well-being, sincere as it may be. There is also fear of the "demographic threat" of a possible Arab majority in Israel. From this perspective, a Jewish woman (and the focus is predominantly on women) who goes off with an Arab man, diminishes the Jewish collective, particularly if she bears children of mixed identity.

But there is a further, more subtle fear that drives the racism of exclusion. This fear is a response to a core tenet of Zionism, namely, that appearances can create reality and that political power comes from appearing in the public sphere.

Theodor Herzl's utopian novel Altneuland ("The Old New Land") made public his dream of a Jewish national homeland and in so doing helped transform the dream into reality. Homa U'Migdal, the Jewish settlements of the 1930s, also showed how the barest appearance of a settlement - a tower and stockade - sufficed to create a new geographic and political reality overnight. Those calling for the exclusion of Israeli Arabs from the public sphere recognize the power of appearances.

The mere presence of an Arab woman, a teacher, in a Jewish neighborhood challenges the claim to exclusive Jewish ownership and control of that space. It reminds us that the Jewish homeland is also home to Arabs who have a right to equal consideration and respect as Israeli citizens. For the woman to pay a condolence call on a Jewish colleague while wearing the hijab is to implicitly reject invisibility and impotence and assert her right to be and act as an individual and an Arab in the public sphere.

Posted by at April 14, 2013 8:38 AM

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