Opinion

As Islamophobia Is Embraced Worldwide, Israel Allows Itself to Let Loose

The world no longer cares about the Palestinian plight, and hatred for Arabs has become the new consensus

A scene from the new documentary “Hate.” Filmmaker Ron Cahlili shows how the call “Death to the Arabs” moved from the margins to become a ubiquitous ideology.
Courtesy of HOT 8

The BBC-HBO television series “Years and Years,” which premiered earlier this year, is a drama about the political deterioration of the world. In the opening scene of the first episode, Emma Thompson appears as Vivienne Rook, an uninhibited populist politician. Asked on a political-talk show what she would say to a Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip about the fact that Israel has reduced their supply of electric power to two hours a day, she responds straight off: “I don’t give a fuck.”

Within the series’ narrative framework, Rook’s callous remark is meant to show the no-holds-barred approach of contemporary populist politicians – a vulgar style that discards the conventional rules of the game and shakes the foundations of the normative political edifice. Indeed, in the series, Rook’s viewers are dumbfounded by her bluntness. But from our local perspective, this scene is a distillation of another important phenomenon: mounting international indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians, which in many cases morphs into hatred. The Palestinian people are becoming one of the chief victims of the new world order. And as a general rule, when it comes to them, the world really doesn’t give a fuck.

Israel’s media and politicians are eager to feed the siege mentality shared by their own people, and to present world public opinion as a pack of wolves waiting to devour the Jewish state. That has not been the case for some time. Right now, it seems that if the wolves are going to devour anyone, it will be the Palestinians.

International solidarity with the Palestinians has never been at such a low. During the Cold War, even if the Palestinians weren’t popular in the West, they at least enjoyed the support of the communist bloc. In our time, however, schadenfreude over the plight of the Palestinians is mounting by the day, borne on the wings of a broader enmity toward the Arabs and Islam generally. This is happening not only here, but also in Europe and America, and no less so in Asia.

In March, an Australian, Brenton Tarrant, massacred 51 worshippers in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Given the scale of that bloodbath, it’s amazing how feeble the reactions were around the world – amounting, basically, to standard condemnations. And that was in the best case. In unofficial platforms, and especially the social networks, one could find innumerable expressions of support for the murderer’s deed. This was especially so in the Chinese-language networks, particularly WeChat and Weibo, where the response to the massacre seemed to be a terrifying surge of joy. Chinese commenters reveled in the assault on Islam and derided the politically correct types in the West who expressed distress at the death of Muslims.

In fact, that wasn’t the feeling only in China, it was evident in the West, too: According to The Guardian, during the week after the New Zealand massacre, the number of hate crimes against Muslims in Great Britain surged by hundreds of percentage points.

The rising tide of Islamophobia across the world has no direct connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it provides a backdrop for the hatred of Arabs in present-day Israel. Earlier this month, Channel 8 broadcast the first episode of Ron Cahlili’s documentary series, “Hate,” about the growing loathing for Arabs in Israel. Cahlili shows how the call “Death to the Arabs” moved from the margins to become a ubiquitous ideology that has infiltrated the Israeli mainstream. Sociologist Sami Smooha is quoted as saying that in the past two years attitudes toward Arabs among the Jewish population have become more extreme. This, he adds, is the first time in decades that he has seen a shift of such significant proportions.

Cahlili asks what happened during the past two years to account for this, and Smooha attributes the trend to the fact that Israel is ruled by a “purely right-wing government.” But other things also occurred during the past two years, including the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the wave of far-right extremism cascading across the world.

Israelis, especially the members of the middle class and up, have always sought confirmation for their views from “world” public opinion, meaning mainly in the United States. They have consistently sought to keep in step with the dominant views in the international community, which they consider to be a criterion that should be taken into account. With the entire world seething with hatred for Arabs and for Islam, and senior European politicians talking like devotees of Meir Kahane, the pressure to show restraint slackens. The self-defense valve blows and Israelis, too, allow themselves to run amok. Hatred for Arabs has become the new consensus.

Reeducation camps

Almost every week items appear in the Israeli media warning Europe (and even the United States) against adopting a lenient and “naive” approach toward Muslim migrants. Journalists such as Zvi Yehezkeli (head of the Arab desk on Channel 13), Boaz Bismuth (chief editor of the freebie Israel Hayom) and Eldad Beck (Berlin correspondent for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth), together with Middle East affairs commentator Guy Bechor, are the knights-in-armor of the genre. One can only wonder what action these angry Islamophobic prophets expect the countries of the world to take against the migrants, in an era in which the right wing is ascendant and countries are already building walls and fences to keep out unfortunate refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

We might hope otherwise, but there are signs that the fantasy of camps for incarcerating Muslims and Arabs is already getting serious play in Israel, too. An indication of this is the favorable coverage Israel Hayom gave at the end of August to two detention camps in the province of Xinjiang in northwest China. These are “reeducation” concentration camps in which hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Chinese Uighur Muslims have been imprisoned. The report was titled “Quiet and Security: Made in China.” The reporter, Erez Linn, described, with obvious approval, the means by which the dictatorship decided “to put an end to the phenomenon of terrorism and isolationism” by establishing the camps. Under the auspices of the Chinese authorities, who invited him to make the trip, Linn visited some camps places and reported leaving “with a relatively positive impression.” Without an iota of irony, he wrote that “those in the facilities express genuine satisfaction at being here,” and declared with pride that “China views itself as part of the spearhead against extremist Islam, particularly ISIS, and, it can be said, as a kindred spirit of Israel.”

Thus, both in the West and the East, hatred of Arabs and the dehumanization of Muslims is part of the zeitgeist. It’s scary to think what measures are yet liable to be taken against these communities – with Israel’s enthusiastic support. And, under cover of the atmosphere globally, it’s no less scary to think what Israel itself is liable to do.