Ethiopian protest - Ilan Assayag - January 2012
Israelis of Ethiopian origin demonstrating against racism in Kiryat Malakhi last week. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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How simple it is to stand up against the racist attempt to segregate housing for people of Ethiopian origin in Kiryat Malakhi. How simple to decry the exclusion of women from the public arena in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem. How convenient to be shocked by the acts of terror perpetrated by the religious Zionist youths who attack innocent people because they are not Jews.

Not merely simple, but even pleasant and good. Because after all, almost everyone agrees. Why almost everyone? All of them - from the heads of the ultra-Orthodox and religious public to all the Knesset members, from the prime minister to the last members of the opposition, everyone is shocked. Everyone denounces these acts. This is really the vision of the messianic era. The brethren shall dwell together in unity.

But the truth is that the struggles against these terrible phenomena are dangerous. They are like palliatives to a body that already requires surgical intervention to combat a spreading disease. A deep incision. It is precisely these justified struggles that intensify the illness and are likely to worsen the situation.

The racist segregation in Kiryat Malakhi, the exclusion of women and other phenomena mentioned here are mere symptoms of the loss of hegemony of basic liberal values, values that were written on the promissory note issued to us by the founding fathers of the state, with equality at the top of the list. The real struggle has to do with placing them again in so supreme a position that no group in society would dare to violate or undermine them.

That is why a struggle of this kind must not focus on abscesses that have burst open here or there - in Kiryat Malakhi or in Beit Shemesh - but on the virus that runs rampant throughout the entire body.

The responsibility for this virus lies with many of those who are currently raising their voices in protest over some of the symptoms it has created. After all, what makes the existence of these phenomena possible is the education that children receive in many parts of Israel, which is funded by the state. This education teaches them that "not all human beings are equal," that there is a substantive distinction (not merely a difference ) between Jews and non-Jews, between women and men, between Jews of Mizrahi descent and Ashkenazim, and between blacks and whites - a distinction which means that only one of them will sit by the wheel while the other can merely sit on the passenger seat beside them.

That is the education given by many streams in Israeli society, while the state turns a blind eye and in many cases even pays for it. There is a reason why a child who studied in the religious Zionist stream's schools in Kiryat Malakhi is prepared to sign a racist agreement that excludes people of Ethiopian origin from living in the building where he lives without his hand-shake. He grew up with the distinction. There is a reason why a Jewish youth will dare to assault an innocent Arab who happens to pass by him. The education he received taught him this was acceptable. There is a reason why an ultra-Orthodox man will not do a thing to stop a maniacal bully from spitting at an 8-year-old girl. It is not just fear; it is also the education he received. A whole generation grew up with the notion that human beings are not really equal.

If we wish to eradicate these atrocious scenes, we must re-institute those liberal values, with the utmost emphasis, in the education system that teaches all the children in all the sectors and groups of Israeli society. True, this means that some of the current partners to the struggle will have to cross certain lines. But, as stated, they have played a central role in imparting that culture of inequality, and therefore their very presence alongside us in the same group of protesters is an indication of the sterility of the struggle from its inception.

Until this happens, until the liberal camp once again demands hegemony for its values everywhere, and not merely in its backyard, these forbidden phenomena will continue. It is possible that we will win a few small battles, such as those currently being waged in Kiryat Malakhi and Beit Shemesh, but we will continue to lose the general war - the war that we must not lose.