The Colors of Racism

Even Iran is not as bad as Immanuel, where they make Jewish girls of differing ethnic stripe wear different colored uniforms.

Sami Michael
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Sami Michael

This article is part of a special edition of Haaretz, to mark Israel's book week.

My nerves are tingling and my flesh is crawling as I write these lines. This is a small story about two girls attending the same school who became friends and who are now required, by racist order, to wear school uniforms of different colors.

They have been forbidden to come in contact with each other and in order to make the prohibition concrete, a fence covered with an opaque cloth has been stretched between them. They preserve their friendship by passing notes through a hole in the fence.

children in Immanuel.Credit: Moti Milrod

This story did not happen in the days of apartheid South Africa or in the dark times before the civil rights movement in the United States or in a ghetto in an insane Europe during World War II.

The two schoolgirls wearing uniforms of different colors are Jewish girls from the Israeli settlement of Immanuel in the West Bank, which is flourishing under the flag and armed protection of the Israel Defense Forces. The school also receives funding courtesy of the Israeli taxpayer.

The two schoolgirls' crime is their different ethnic origins. One is an Ashkenazi Jew, whose family's roots are in Europe, and her friend is a Mizrahi Jew, whose family comes from Middle Eastern and North African countries. Was it for this that the state of Israel forged its path through rivers of the blood of its sons and its enemies?

Even in the darkest days in Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, they never separated Jews from Muslims and Christians in schools.

One of the initiators of the segregation in Immanuel commented: "This isn't ethnic separation, but rather religious." He was right, but only partially. Indeed, this separation is not ethnic but rather "racist," a word rarely used, even by those of courageous and honest determination.

The Supreme Court's justices, whom I see as the last bastion of democracy in Israel, used the term "discrimination."

To my regret, intellectuals whose voice resounds from time to time from here and abroad have sealed their lips. They and the vast majority of Israeli society used to think of "discrimination" as something unclean. What? Here? In our enlightened country?

Along came the righteous Supreme Court justices, headed by Edmond Levy and Hanan Melcer, who smashed the taboo and used the despised word "discrimination."

Let us imagine for a moment a school, say in Germany or Britain, which puts up a separation fence for "religious" reasons, as the Immanuel racists claimed, and compels the Jewish students to wear a uniform of a different color. What a ruckus we would be raising!

I have personally met the current head of the Jewish community in Tehran and I have conversed with many Iranian expatriates in Europe and the United States. I am also in touch with combative elements in Iran. I can attest that Jewish schoolchildren and students living in Iran today are not required to wear clothing of a different color.

How has it happened that rabbis, at least in Immanuel, are even more benighted than the ayatollahs we excoriate and abominate day and night? And why have the intellectuals here mostly disappeared?

I am glad the president has not been silent and has not shut his ears to this horror. In a meeting with young people at his official residence he said if he were their age he would go out and demonstrate against this injustice.

One can understand him. Age has its limitations. I have reached the age of 84 and now it seems to me that every single year weighs a ton. However, the color of the uniforms forced on the schoolgirls in Immanuel has also been forced on me and my children and my grandchildren, who are Ashkenazi and Mizrahi at the same time.

Let's call a spade a spade: The lords of Immanuel are racists who imperil the values of Judaism and democracy. Since my adolescence I have been fighting their sort no matter what their race, religion and heritage. This separation fence of defilement, which shady rabbis plot to plant in our souls, must be uprooted.

I will not demonstrate in Immanuel. Even though the name of the town means "God is with us," obviously he is no longer there. I will however, definitely demonstrate during the celebration of Hebrew Book Week, for a school is called "the house of the book" in Hebrew.

I will show up on my own with a modest placard at Rabin Square at the Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Publishers' booth on Wednesday, June 9, at 7:00 P.M. Every man, woman and teenager will be welcome to join me to extirpate the racist crime in Immanuel today - and should we remain silent, in all of Israel tomorrow.

The writer's latest novel "Aida" was published in Hebrew by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan. He is the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.



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