The Jewish People's Own, Hyperactive Ethnic Genie

Tragically – or absurdly – those who are trying to remove the African asylum seekers from our sight are in a worse situation than these infiltrators.

Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer
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Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer

Anyone who has read “The Arabian Nights” attentively must have realized that the genies − those scary-looking but diligent demons that fulfill the wishes of the stories’ protagonists ‏(as in the case of the genie of the lamp, or ring, of Ala ad-Din, who is mistakenly called “Aladdin,” the most famous of all these creatures‏) − are automatons, or complete clods. After they have served their purpose, nobody really misses them. They disappear from the plot or are imprisoned once again inside the bottle, the lamp or the cave that they came from, because over time their excessive industriousness gets a little tedious.

That’s why whoever invented the expression “the ethnic genie” ‏(or demon‏) to describe the repeated eruptions of ethnic protests in Israel ‏(“The Ethnic Demon” is also the name of Amnon Levy’s very popular television series on Channel 10, which deals with the subject‏), didn’t read “The Arabian Nights.” Or perhaps just the opposite: He was well aware that what gives us a headache is not the genie’s rebelliousness or his disobedience. The fact that he is so well disciplined and tries so hard to find favor is what makes him so annoying. He and his obsequiousness.

Without insulting anyone, I consider the diligent − overly diligent − MK Miri Regev ‏(Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu‏) a kind of hyperactive ethnic genie of that type, who comes to our assistance for the purpose of solving the problem of the asylum seekers from Africa. And here exactly the same excessive enthusiasm, the same hyperkinetic appearance, is what makes all the differencebetween her and the ostensibly positive hero in this story − namely, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who in reality is no more positive than she.

In the past, another poor soul, Eli Yishai, when he was interior minister, played the part of the overly enthusiastic politician when it came to cleansing the country of foreigners. Gideon Sa’ar is not as foolish as he: He has a magic lamp, and when he rubs it, the genie emerges and starts to writhe and cause an uproar − in order to explain with signs and miracles that he knows better than we what’s good for us and what has to be done for this country to be Jewish.

It’s true that deep down, most of the residents of this country believe that we needed these infiltrators from Africa like a hole in the head. I also think there is a lot of hypocrisy and fake compassion among those called leftists and humanists and lovers of mankind, who have never gone to the trouble of even meeting a refugee from Africa. Of those people, Dostoevsky already said, “The more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular.” Miri Regev, incidentally, also flaunts this argument.

What is tragic − or absurd − about this whole story is that in symbolic terms, Regev’s situation is worse than that of the asylum seeker from Africa that she is trying so hard to remove from our sight. The refugees who went up to Jerusalem and demonstrated this week in front of the Knesset are well aware that they don’t belong here, either ethnically or ideologically; all they really want is not to be in the place from which they fled.

Regev, on the other hand, feels a need to expend so much energy to prove, time and time again, how much she does belong here, ethnically and ideologically. What a genuine Zionist she is, what a deeply rooted Israeli she is. Even if we tell her: “All right, we believe you” − she probably won’t desist.

And here there is no choice but to touch, once again, the biographical wound that apparently plays a significant role here: The fact that Regev’s ancestors come from the same despised continent as the present asylum seekers. And the thought of that is definitely not pleasant. Personally, I understand her, because I also recall the pain I felt when I was forced repeatedly to choose the words “Asia and Africa” on forms that I had to fill out in school, in the army and at the university in the rubric for “parents’ country of origin.” Only because my mother was born a few meters away from, and on the wrong side of, the banks of the Bosphorus, which separates Asia from Europe.

That’s why I can totally understand Regev’s desire to have the accursed continent called Africa removed from her line of vision, along with the present reminders of its existence in the guise of those starving people knocking on our doors, requesting asylum.

It’s not her fault that she has such a desire. The ones who are to blame are those who created those above-mentioned questionnaires. The atmosphere surrounding the obligation to fill them out has clearly demonstrated that anyone whose parents came from “Asia and Africa” is inferior to those who can proudly write “Europe and America.”

And against our will we are returning to the issue of the ethnic genie. And even if we make every effort, we can’t escape the conclusion that the question of the asylum seekers from Africa is actually an branch of the ethnic problem. To be more precise: It’s a branch of endless manipulations of the ethnic problem. And one of those manipulations, as mentioned, is having the latest Ashkenazi hero rub the magic lamp, after which a diligent male or female genie appears, and promises to solve his problems.

And they do in fact work hard, trying with all their might to prove themselves, to the point where their excessive enthusiasm becomes a joke. Because don’t think that we have forgotten for a moment that you aren’t really like us, but rather a genie who emerged from a bottle that originally belonged − at least that’s how it is in the legend of Ala ad-Din − to a wizard from Africa.

Leaving the Holot facility on a long walk to Jerusalem.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

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