Racism

As recent events show, neither Israelis nor Palestinians are above a culture of hate. As long as Israel’s belligerent occupation continues, their lives together will be predicated on bouts of violent confrontation. But that does not mean Israeli and Palestinian culpability is equal. The reality is that Israelis do not need to seek revenge on their own account. The Israeli state, military and courts do it for them.

In some parts of Israel, voters in Tuesday’s elections will be casting a ballot not on how well their municipality is run but on how to stop “Arabs” moving in next door, how to prevent mosques being built in their community, or how to “save” Jewish women from the clutches of Arab men. According to analysts and residents, Israel’s local elections have brought a tide of ugly racism to the fore, especially in a handful of communities known as “mixed cities”, where Jewish and Palestinian citizens live in close proximity.

While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies on the far right were castigating an amusement park called Superland for separating Jewish and Arab children, they were busy backing a bill that will give Israeli Jews who serve in the army a whole raft of extra rights in land and housing, employment, salaries, and much more. Superland’s offence pales to insignificance when compared to that, or to the decades of state-planned and officially sanctoned discrimination against the country’s Palestinian minority.

With Europe’s most talented young footballers preparing for the kick-off of the under-21 championships, Israelis are celebrating the biggest footballing coup in their history. But criticism from global statesmen such as Desmond Tutu has bolstered the recent launch of a campaign by Palestinian groups and European and American solidarity activists for a sporting boycott of Israel, modelled on the international campaign that targeted apartheid South Africa.

“You know why Israel’s leaders can’t make peace?” a Palestinian friend asked recently. “Because if the conflict ever ended, Israeli Jews would start tearing out each other’s throats.” But any Palestinian who hoped the protest movements emerging in Israel might signal the beginning of Israeli society’s disintegration should think again. There are plenty of reasons to doubt that most Israeli Jews are ready to break free of the militaristic and nationalist thinking that has dominated Zionism for decades.”

Israel’s increasing integration into European competitions, despite its refusal to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, respect human rights and halt illegal settlement, is, according to critics, contrary to sporting values and should be met with international opposition of the kind faced by apartheid South Africa.

Israel’s large Palestinian minority is often spoken of in terms of the threat it poses to the Jewish majority. Palestinian citizens’ reproductive rate constitutes a “demographic timebomb”, while their main political programme – Israel’s reform into “a state of all its citizens” – is proof for most Israeli Jews that their compatriots are really a “fifth column”. But who would imagine that Israeli Jews could be so intimidated by the innocuous Christmas tree?

Jews must not rent homes to “gentiles”. That was the religious decree issued this week by at least 50 of Israel’s leading rabbis, many of them employed by the state as municipal religious leaders. Jews should first warn, then “ostracise” fellow Jews who fail to heed the directive, the rabbis declared. The decree is the latest in a wave of racist pronouncements from some of Israel’s most influential rabbis.

Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, last week declared Safed “the most racist city in the country”. The unflattering, and hotly contested, epithet follows an edict from Safed’s senior rabbis ordering residents not to sell or rent homes to “non-Jews” – a reference to the country’s Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of Israel’s population.

Measures designed to benefit Jewish school-leavers applying for places in Israeli higher education at the cost of their Arab counterparts have been criticised by lawyers and human rights groups. The new initiatives are viewed as part of an ongoing drive to demand “loyalty” from the country’s large minority population of Arab citizens. Critics have termed the measures, including a programme to provide financial aid exclusively to students who have served in the Israeli army, a form of “covert discrimination”.

A rabbi from one of the most violent settlements in the West Bank was questioned on suspicion of incitement last week as Israeli police stepped up their investigation into a book in which he sanctions the killing of non-Jews, including children and babies. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira is one of the leading ideologues of the most extreme wing of the religious settler movement.

Two Israeli Arab brothers have won $8,000 in damages from Israel’s national carrier, El Al, after a court found that their treatment by the company’s security staff at a New York airport had been “abusive and unnecessary.” Abdel Wahab and Abdel Aziz Shalabi were assigned a female security guard who watched over them at the airport’s departure gate for nearly two hours, in full view of hundreds of fellow passengers, after they had passed the security and baggage checks.

A leading Arab human-rights lawyer in Israel has suggested a novel and provocative approach to dealing with routine discrimination practised by Jews against Israel’s Arab minority: Arabs should start discriminating against Jews. Hassan Jabareen, director of the Adalah legal centre, proposes several examples of reverse discrimination the Arab minority might easily adopt: restaurants could deny Jews admission, Arab communities could refuse to put up roadsigns in Hebrew or bar Jews from buying homes, and Arab libraries could refuse to stock books on Jewish history.

Health officials in Israel are subjecting many female Ethiopian immigrants to a controversial long-term birth control drug in what Israeli women’s groups allege is a racist policy to reduce the number of black babies. The contraceptive, known as Depo Provera, which is given by injection every three months, is considered by many doctors as a birth control method of last resort because of problems treating its side effects. However, according to a report published last week, use of the contraceptive by Israeli doctors has risen threefold over the past few years.

A local authority in Israel has announced that it is establishing a special team of youth counsellors and psychologists whose job it will be to identify young Jewish women who are dating Arab men and “rescue” them. The move by the municipality of Petah Tikva, a city close to Tel Aviv, is the latest in a series of separate – and little discussed – initiatives from official bodies, rabbis, private organisations and groups of Israeli residents to try to prevent interracial dating and marriage.

The Israeli government has launched a television and Internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews. The advertisements, employing what the Israeli media described as “scare tactics,” are designed to stop assimilation through intermarriage among young Diaspora Jews by encouraging their move to Israel.

An Arab couple whose one-year-old daughter was expelled from an Israeli day-care centre on her first day are suing a Jewish mother for damages, accusing her of racist incitement against their child. Maysa and Shua’a Zuabi, from the village of Sulam in northern Israel, launched the court action last week saying they had been “shocked and humiliated” when the centre’s owner told them that six Jewish parents had demanded their daughter’s removal because she is an Arab.

Two immigrants from the former Soviet Union staged a very public wedding in the streets of central Tel Aviv this week to highlight the plight of hundreds of thousands of Jews barred from lawfully marrying in Israel. Nico Tarosyan and Olga Samosvatov chose to tie the knot in a special ceremony on Tuesday after Orthodox rabbis had denied them the right to wed. The rabbinate says that Mr Tarosyan cannot prove he is Jewish according to its strict standards and therefore should not marry Ms Samosvatov, who is considered a proper Jew.

The Jewish community of Kfar Vradim, set in the still-verdant hills of northern Israel close to the Lebanese border, has taken the idea of neighbourly feuds to a new – and noisier – level. Last week, it set up a large sound system, pointed it at the neighbouring homes in the Arab town of Tarshiha, the nearest of which are less than 1km away, and blasted them with Beethoven and Mozart. Officials said they were forced to take the drastic step in retaliation for what they call the “deafening” blare of Arab music from late-night street parties.

Israel has been suffering its worst bout of inter-communal violence since the start of the second intifada, with a week of what has been widely presented as “rioting” by Jewish and Arab residents of the northern port city of Acre. The trigger for the outbursts occurred on the night of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. According to reports, an Arab resident, Tawfik Jamal, outraged a group of Jews by disturbing the day’s sanctity and driving to relatives in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. He and his teenage son were pelted with stones.

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