Israel's racist image is distorted
So-called “rampant racism” is a recurring theme in certain descriptions of Israel. Indeed, the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel is far from being a smooth one. How can it be when the two ethnic groups are engaged in a century-old violent conflict over the same piece of land?
Claims about racism are voiced since Jews and Arabs’ relations are mostly assessed through the prism of the American "civil rights movement". In such narrative, a disenfranchised minority is fighting to gain equality.
However, the reality in Israel is quite different.
The true context of the ongoing tensions between Jews and Arabs lies in its ethnic conflict.
The difference cannot be overemphasized. Martin Luther King Jr. never told the U.S’ white population that they were foreigners in the land, as Arab-Israeli Members of Knesset often say to the Israeli-Jews. The African-American leadership of the 60's never wished to overwrite the American constitution or the country’s identity. MK Haneen Zoabi does so when she suggests Israel should stop being both Jewish and democratic. The American civil rights movement never asked to change the American flag or the national anthem, but the Arab leadership in Israel provocatively does profess such desires.
Simply put, the Israeli-Arab leadership’s aspirations are not focused on gaining equal rights. They wish to fundamentally change the State of Israel. The radical Islamic movement in Israel is holding huge rallies, in which slogans call for freeing the "entire Palestine" from the Zionist occupation. Their call to alter Israel's identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people is unprecedented for any minority throughout the world. Obviously, it enrages many Israeli-Jews.
The media definitely does its share in creating a distorted image. A lynch by a group of Jewish teenagers against Palestinian teenagers in the heart of Jerusalem, in August 2012, was reported by all major international media outlets, including The New York Times, the BBC and The New Yorker, to name a few. The incident has also an elaborate Wikipedia entry, documented as the “Zion square assault”.
Five months earlier in Ramla, a Jewish man was killed by an Arab teenager while walking his dog at night. Before shooting both the dog and the man, the Arab shouted “this is for what you do in Gaza”. None of this was reported throughout the world; nor there is a Wikipedia entry about the incident.
All societies deal with racism and xenophobia. A society is measured not only by the number of such incidents, but by public reaction to them. For example, compare the official Israeli reaction to the group of rabbis, who called in 2011 not to rent apartments to Arabs in the city of Safed. The Prime Minister, the President and a few prominent rabbis have gone out of their way to denounce this call. Subsequently, some of the rabbis retracted their original call.
On the other hand, consistent and vehement anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish propaganda in the Palestinian media and by Palestinian officials receives no attention. It is not condemned by the Palestinian leadership either.
Racism and xenophobia should be confronted through education and the judicial system. However, we should remember that in the entire Middle East, stretching from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, the only Arabs to experience freedom are the ones living in Israel. They enjoy here human rights, participating in the parliament elections without being harassed and can express their views and grievances. Nowhere else in the Middle East is this possible to the same degree. In Israel, there are Arab members of parliament, judges, professors, students, physicians, even a beauty queen. It is ironic that Arabs enjoy such liberties in a non-Arab country.
A group of Israeli journalists recently visited the Arab city of Nazareth. They asked a local businessman, Khatem Zuabi, on his take on discrimination and racism in Israel. “We have too many Arab whiners”, he replied. He also called his brethren to open up more businesses and believe in their own capabilities. This sounds like a very good advice.
Adi Schwartz is an independent Israeli journalist and researcher.