Racism in the USA vs Racism in Israel. The Wednesday Weekly Roundup of Israeli Racism: Vol. 7


Let’s face it. This was not the best week for race relations in the United States. In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, we saw wide-spread racism and Islamophobia: A Palestinian woman was assaulted in Boston, social media featured more racism than any of us should be comfortable with, and mainstream newspaper outlets like CNN, FoxNews, and the New York Post ran horrifyingly inaccurate stories about Muslims in America. And while the anti-racist reaction to such posts has been thankfully vocal, these sorts of stories reveal an inexcusable, worrisome, and widespread current of racism that the United States has yet to be purged. 

So why am I still talking about Israel? Well, for one, there is something exceptional and shocking about the racist flare-up in the United States. This is as it should be: we must continue to fight against racism whenever it pops up, but it seems to me like the overwhelming reaction against the racist uptick in the United States testifies to its shocking and exceptional character. It could and should have been louder: I would have like to see the President join in the condemnations, for example. And yet, it existed. By contrast, most of the stories I list each and every week in the roundup barely crack the headlines of Israeli news, so mundane have they become. And you do not see the sort of widespread backlash against them that my compatriots in the United States demonstrated this past week.

In the end, I do not think one could do a comparable Weekly Wednesday Roundup of American Racism. I don’t think you could find mayors of Cincinnati or Portland implying they employed illegal means to keep their city ethnically pure. I don’t think you could find consistent gangs attacking people with complete impunity. And I don’t think you could find people in power consistently arguing in favor of racism. This is not to excuse American racism. Only to say that the fight there, while important and ongoing, has achieved something significant which is lacking in Israel.

One particular reason for this – the reason that I want to highlight this week – is the way that racism is infused in the people, institutions, and practices of the Israeli state. We are not just talking about a few backwater uneducated racists here nor even a determined but small fascist movement of the sort that has emerged in Europe recently. Rather, the types of racism that I describe here week after week comes directly from a state which at best ignores such acts and at worst encourages and participates in the racism.

This state-based racism extends from the very top levels of government, where apartheid-esque laws were this week once again extended; to the well-documented role of the army in perpetuating racist policies in the West Bank and Gaza; to the state-rabbinate who make their feelings very clear on the matter this week; to the municipal government of major cities; and even to high schools who can’t stand the mention of Palestinians at assemblies. We even get one of the strangest stories of police racism I have ever heard. This week, I present 18 of the most shocking examples of racism in Israel from this past week’s news, starting with this rather large difference between the sort of racism that we saw in the U.S. and the sort we see consistently in Israel:

Except under circumstances specified in this section, no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.

“A Haaretz article, published this week, claims I am a racist, and the reader comments are well-filtered, to generate a presumed public opinion which chastises me.
And what’s all the fuss about? It’s about me declaring once more what is known to everyone: I as a mayor have acted decidedly and unequivocally, to preserve upper Nazareth as a Jewish city for ever and ever. For this they are calling me a racist, a fascist, a thug. [They] are planning a demonstration by a left wing group in front of my house [in order] to arrest me… “
  • Not content to let the North steal their racism-spotlight, Israel’s Attorney General has apparently unilaterally redrawn the border of the city of Jerusalem, in the process excluding thousands of Palestinian legal residents of Jerusalem who live beyond the Apartheid Wall, their eligibility for health insurance and other social benefits.
  • Israeli forces destroyed Palestinian houses in At-Tur, East Jerusalem, citing their lack of permits. Of course, it is the policy of the Jerusalem municipality not to grant such building permits to Palestinians, in an effort to maintain an official demographic target in the make-up of Israel’s capital city. Separately, the Israeli army destroyed three Palestinian houses near Hebron as well.
  • Summarizing the situation in Jerusalem, a new report by the International Crisis Group underscores the pressures faced by non-Jewish residents of the Holy City:

The report, entitled “The Withering of Arab Jerusalem,” describes a very bleak situation in East Jerusalem. “For many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost,” reads the report’s opening paragraph. “Settlements have hemmed in their neighborhoods, which have become slums in the midst of an expanding Jewish presence; trade with the West Bank has been choked off by the Separation Barrier and checkpoints; organized political life has been virtually eradicated by the clampdown on Palestinian institutions; their social and economic deprivation is rendered the more obvious by proximity to better-off Jewish neighbors.”

  • In an Israeli Army endorsed book on the seemingly mundane topic of whether or not the presence of non-Jews should affect the placement of mezzuzot on army bases, the Israeli state tells its positions regarding equal rights of citizenship. As I have stated before, me and they read very different Torahs:

“The idea that views non-Jews as having equal rights in the state goes against the opinion of the Torah, and no representative of the state is authorized to act against the will of the Torah.

  • The former chief rabbi of the Israeli Army, Avichai Ronsky, quickly apologized for mezzuzah-gate. That is, he apologized for it becoming public, not for its ideas. However, he insisted that the original reporting on the story was a real hit job:

Ronsky added that “the intention of this newspaper [Haaretz] is to turn Israel into a state of all its citizens.” Haaretz aims “to prevent Israel from being a Jewish state,” according to Ronsky.

  • In a story that is equal parts bizarre and racist, an Arab volunteer police officer who is in the process of converting to Judaism went undercover to expose Palestinians illegally residing within the Green Line. In a story that sounds like it was ripped from the pages of Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks, the profesional Border Police did not exactly appreciate the assist:

According to the volunteer, Nissim Elimelech looked at him and asked the Border Police commander: “Who called this Arab to come?” The commanders thought Nissim Elimelech might be referring to the illegal residents but Elimelech clarified: “I mean him – Yusuf Abu-Balal.” Balal has started the process of conversion to Judaism, during which he changed his name from Yusuf to Yosef.

The commanders explained that Balal was a veteran volunteer and part of the team. “Why do you call him Yosef; he’s an Arab and his name is Yusuf Abu-Balal,” Nissim Elimelech said to one of the commanders, according to Balal. Balal said Yosef Elimelech then said: “Maybe he changed his name or made it a Hebrew name and calls himself Yosef Balal, but that doesn’t change him.

  • Yesh Din has a new report out highlighting the ways selective application of the law by state officials allow Israeli outposts (settlement-colonies illegal not only under international law, but also  Israeli law) to thrive and to commit violence against Palestinians.
  • And finally, to close out our session on state-based racism, Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy called on classic anti-Semitic tropes this week when he referred to Haredim as “parasites.” Among their sins, according to Levy, is their lack of a desire to participate in the army.
  • During a commemoration for the Deir Yassin massacre, a group of Israeli Jews confronted the Jews and Palestinians conducting the commemoration, chanting “We will bring a Nakba, a Nakba, a Nakba, upon you!” For those who speak Hebrew, you can see parts of the incident at the 2:40 mark in Israel Social TV’s report:
  • David Sheen posts a video from last month’s right-wing Ramle conference, where Makor Rishon journalist  Yehuda Yifrach complains about how the Israeli judiciary doesn’t allow the government to be open about its racism. If you think I am exaggerating, at one point Yifrach actually says that if Israel presented its true intentions regarding the Family Reunification Law, the Israeli Supreme Court would reject the law as racist (see last week’s edition for more on the law). One might think that the problem here is the racism itself, perhaps even the way that the Israeli Supreme Court, according to Yifrach, wraps up the racist policies in the trappings of sanitized policy language, but no. Apparently the issue is that Israel cannot be openly racist.
  • Echoing Emitt Till, Jewish youths entered the village of Safed, torching cars and writing grafitti on a wall that read “don’t touch our girls.” Love, once again, is a great threat to the apartheid system.
  • Settler-colonists from Bat Ayin attacked and threw stones at a farmer near Hebron. Still waiting for the arguments about stone throwing being a terrorist activity to be applied to these cases.
  • Settler-colonists also entered into Ramallah to torch 10 cars.

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.

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