Try saying 'Arab'
We are happy to live in a world in which an attempt is made to reduce violence and stereotypical thinking of different kinds. But sometimes one has to think for another minute and understand where real racism is hiding.
Last month Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit angered civil rights activists when he chose to note one of the hardships in the life of a minor who had been raped. The victim, said Amit, "was friendly with members of the minorities and even lived with a 21-year-old member of the minorities who became her partner." It is worth spelling out the arguments of those who opposed the judge's remarks, since this is indeed a case that proves the inability of political correctness to overcome racism.
As my friend Dr. Zvi Triger explains in our joint book, "B'li Milim" ("Without Words" ) the expression "members of the minorities" came into the world years before the start of the movement of political correctness. But in fact this is an expression which is itself offensive. In order to understand why, it's necessary to look at what phrase "members of the minorities" replaces.
The word "black" came to replace the word "negro" and "short" is considered less offensive than calling someone a "midget." The term "members of the minorities" is supposed to replace the term "Arabs." But for what reason? The word "Arab" is not a derogatory term. On the face of it, even if one defines the word "Arab" on the basis of religion, geography or language, this word does not have a negative connotation. But the problem is that this too is not correct - at least not in Israel where the term "Arab" indeed has a very negative connotation. This was plainly evident after last week's soccer match when Beitar Jerusalem fans gave expression to their anti-Arab feelings. And it was not without good reason that my colleague, Sayed Kashua, chose to call the television program that he wrote, "Avoda Aravit" ("Arab Labor" ). This just goes to prove even more so what a derogatory term it is. Afer all, only a black person can use the N-word without being criticized, only Jews can tell jokes about the Holocaust, and only an Arab can use the term "Arab."
But perhaps we don't have to go that far. Even if we have never attended a soccer match, in daily life there are many situations in which a Jewish Israeli feels uncomfortable using the word "Arab" and employs some form of linguistic acrobatics to explain who he is talking about. Writing about the term, Triger brings an example from Victor Klemperer's diaries which describes a meeting in Germany in 1941 between Klemperer and an official who was not capable of saying "Jew" to his face because it had become so derogatory a word.
The uniqueness of the example of the judge's words is that it shows the term "members of the minorities" in all its nakedness. Firstly because it testifies to the fact that the writer feels the word "Arab" is too low and is not appropriate to be included in a high-level legal text. And secondly because the politically correct choice of terminology did not overcome the racism implicit in the assumption that having a relationship with an Arab youth is a "difficult and regrettable biographical detail" - as attorney Oded Feller of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel wrote in his criticism of the verdict.
This does not mean that being politically correct is always ineffective and ridiculous. We are happy to live in a world in which an attempt is made to reduce violence and stereotypical thinking of different kinds. But sometimes one has to think for another minute and understand where real racism is hiding. If necessary, practice at home. Every time you say "Arab," it becomes easier. Then you can move on to "homo."