I Rest my Case (For Now). Wednesday Weekly Roundup of Israeli Racism: Vol. 8


Every week, this blog tries to chronicle the most egregious acts of racism committed by Israel. You can find a longer explanation of the purpose of this exercise here. As this list will, unfortunately  be far from exhaustive, feel free to add additional stories of relevance and importance in the comments below.

When I started the Wednesday Weekly Roundup of Israeli Racism two months ago, I had a pretty simple plan: In between working on more in-depth analytical articles about Palestine and Israel, I would keep a simple, brief roundup of the most egregious examples of racism in Israel.

Unfortunately, as time has gone on, this feature has morphed from a side-project into the main focus of this blog. As a result, the past few weeks the Weekly Roundup has tended toward a bit more analytic style, talking about the racism of the Israeli State and the racism of the Israeli Left. But, since this is ultimately still a list of the week’s news, I wasn’t fully satisfied with those posts: they were not quite in-depth enough to really get at the issues with the level of detail that I want from this blog nor quite current enough to really get at what has happened over the past week. And in the meantime, the Weekly Roundup has been taking up so much of my time, that I haven’t been able to work on some pieces that are really close to my heart, like the question of whether Zionism is necessarily racism, a post on the one-state vs. two-state solutions, and yet another rant on Abe Foxman.

It seems that the time has come to make a choice. I could continue this focus on the week’s news. But I think there are diminishing returns, there. Over the past 8 weeks, we have seen how racism exists at every level of Israeli society. Each and every week, we have seen racism against Palestinians, other minorities, migrants and asylum seekers, Mizrahi Jews, and even some straight-up anti-Semitism. We have seen racism on the political right, center, and left. We have seen it in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as within the pre-1967 borders.

When I first started this feature, I wrote :

From this series I hope that this simple point will become obvious: far from being a few bad apples, the whole damn orchard is rotten.

Over the past eight weeks, I think that this point has now been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.

We have had eight weeks of posting around 15 stories each week. I have been quite restrained in my selection. When Electronic Intifada did a very good exposé of a fascist Facebook group, I decided not to include it, as I felt that it was more a gathering of the self-identified racists, rather than a story with broader implications about Israeli society. And while I feel that it was an excellent and important story, it didn’t get at the sort of systematic, institutional, and widespread racism that this feature tries to address.

I have also left out stories from the vast “grey zone,” where stories could be described as racist, but are not the clearest exemplars of it. So just to take this week, for example, I’ve chosen to exclude stories of Israeli security forces assaulting children leaving the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, because not enough details exist to make it a clear-cut unambiguous example of racism. I also opted not to include a story about Israel deciding to give up white phosphorous chemical weapons, not because it is effectively napalm and therefore banned under the terms of international law, but because it doesn’t photograph well. Although the blatant disregard for Palestinian life and well being is clearly a product of racism, the story itself is not really about the racism of Israel so much as their concern for how to carry out that racism while not being condemned by the world.

Finally, I have excluded many example of settler-colonists’ violence in the West Bank, just because they have become so commonplace that they barely register as more than one line stories, even in much of the alternative press.

Yet despite my incredibly conservative criteria for inclusion, each week has featured shocking and horrifying examples of profound and persistent racism: from beating up people for the color of their skin, to assaults with impunity, to racist laws, and plenty more. And the saddest part is that the past eight weeks have not been an especially violent time period for the region. Heck, for most of it the Kenesset wasn’t even in session!

I think that there can be little doubt that this feature could easily continue for as long as the situation here does.

So, unless there is any great outcry, I think the time has come to suspend the Wednesday Weekly Roundup of Israeli Racism. We here at Jeremiah’s Laments are going to take a bit of a break in the coming week, but when I return, I think the focus is going to be on putting out fewer lists and more analytic content. The topic of Israeli racism will remain a frequent topic of concern at this blog, but we will approach it in broader swaths.

So, for the last time – at least for now – I present you with the 14 of the most egregious stories of Israeli racism that I have encountered in this past week’s news. In previous week’s I’ve tried to get all fancy, showing how the state or other systematic actors are involved in everyday racism. But today, I think I’ll just let the incredibly racist things people say speak for themselves. So, one last time in this feature, allow me to say that these are sorts of racism that characterize everyday life in Israel today:

  • Israel is getting ready to launch a new series of bank notes, featuring prominent cultural figures. The proposed bank notes feature exclusively Ashkenazi (roughly: white) Jews, causing a big and justified uproar among Israel’s Mizrahi community, who make up roughly half of the Jewish population in Israel. Incredibly, Banknote Committee member Sari Raz excused the commission because she could not think of a single Mizrahi poet. (Hello? Google?). Naturally, the idea of including a Palestinian poet on the bills never even crossed either the committee’s nor the mass media’s minds, despite accounting for some 21% of the citizens of the State.
  • Unknown assailants broke into a south Tel Aviv home being rented by Palestinian Citizens of Israel, and sprayed graffiti reading, “Death to Arabs,” “Go Away,” and “Price Tag.”
  • Not content with the number of parallels to the Jim Crow South already in existence, the mayor of the West Bank settlement-colony of Ariel urged the state to ban Palestinians from riding public transportation.
  • Seeking to one-up her West Bank competition, the chairwoman of the Kenesset Internal Affairs and Environmental Committee and “proud fascist” Miri Regev took a race-baiting tour of South Tel Aviv. At one point on her tour, an Eritrean man attempted to board the bus she had chartered. Regev instructed her security guards to prevent him from boarding the bus. Then, noting the presence of media cameras, she turned around and berated her guards for carrying out her own racist instructions.
  • Yeshiva students in Jerusalem sprayed two police officers with tear gas, after they heard the pair conversing in Arabic. In previous weeks, we have covered the startling frequency of such attacks on Palestinian civilians in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. The only reason this attack even made the mainstream Israeli press – which doesn’t even mention this series of attacks contextually, instead noting the series of attacks throughout the country that have made the news – is because this time the yeshiva students attacked the wrong person.
  • Ir Amim posts video from Jerusalem Day (Hebrew), featuring huge crowds of Jewish Israelis in Occupied East Jerusalem chanting “Death to the Arabs,” “Death to the Leftists,” “Muhammed is Dead,” and “Muhammed is a bitch.”
  • A soldier of the Israeli army was caught on camera threatening to beat up Israeli activists, who were ensuring that a farmer could safely graze. He yelled that they were “enemies of Israel” and “worse than the Arabs.” This sort of rhetoric is an increasingly common in Israeli politics and it is not surprising to see it filter out from the street gangs who beat up Palestinians in Jerusalem or African asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv to a soldier in the West Bank.
  • The director of Tel Aviv’s largest hospital complained that too many African babies were being born in his hospital. We have previously covered how love is apparently a great threat to the Israeli state:

The problem is that they closed down the fence, but they did not close down the natural growth, and the number of Eritreans born here rises from year to year,

  • Speaking of which, the Israeli Religious Action Center published a new report documenting the increasing levels of violence against Palestinian men that goes under the heading of “protecting Jewish Women.” Echoes of the whole white slavery movement here. Importantly, the report is careful to document the state’s complicity in these street-gang attacks:

“These displays of racism are not being denounced by the general public or the Israeli leadership and aren’t receiving due legal attention, and thus they become part of the general and accepted public discourse. We monitored and filed complaints on 12 incidents that occurred since the 2010 encouragement of a ban on contact between a Jewish woman and an Arab man. The attorney general has the right to decide whether to try someone, and the practice that has arisen is that the police do not open an investigation without his order. On most of the cases of incitement described in the report, we received a reply that ‘the matter has been taken under consideration.’

  • Following the fatal stabbing of a settler-colonist by a lone Palestinian at the Tapuach junction in the West Bank, settler-colonists went on a rampage, starting over 50 fires in Palestinian areas, attacking mosques, and throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles, including at a school bus carrying  children. According to several people I follow on Twitter, though I have  not seen it confirmed in the mainstream press, a number of these incidents were done with the Israeli army present and protecting the settler-colonists. Given the regular protection settler-colonists often enjoy when conducting such attacks, these reports are plausible. 
  • Following the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip last week, Israel decided to engage in even more collective punishment of all of its residents by closing the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza after rockets. This closing immediately resulted in a massive shortage of cooking gas. So according to Israel, if somebody in your county does something they do not like, then all of the people should be prevented from cooking food.
  • The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, published an op-ed questioning whether Israeli medical professionals violated their Hippocratic oath, facilitating the torture of Arafat Jaradat, the Palestinian prisoner who was tortured to death earlier this year.

Derek Summerfield, an honorary senior lecturer at the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry and campaigner against what he called Israeli physicians’ violations of human rights, says he wanted to know what part doctors played in the circumstances of Jaradat’s death. “By Israel’s own admission, Jaradat was seen by Israeli doctors 2 days earlier and they found him in good health. The key medical ethical question is what were these doctors examining him for, if not to assess whether he could withstand torture”, he tells The Lancet. “This is precisely what the campaign regarding medical collusion with torture in Israel was launched for in 2009 and it continues to run.”

  • Amnesty International called for the release of Ahmed Qatamesh, who is being held in Israeli prison without charge. According to AI, “Qatamesh [is] a 62-year-old academic who Amnesty International believes is being detained to deter political activities by other Palestinian left-wing activists.”
  • Finally, since today is May Day, we’ll end with new statistics out that, in large part due to Israeli strangling of the economic life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the average wage in the West Bank is just NIS60 (~US$17) in the West Bank and only NIS42 (~US$12) in Gaza.
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