What Do 'Jewish Arabs' Mean When They Shout 'Death to Arabs'?

The statement from Beitar Jerusalem's spokesperson claiming that Beitar has many Arabs (but of the Jewish variety) is an evasion of charges of racism. However, it is also indicative of great changes in Israeli society.

A Beitar Jerusalem fan.
AP

"If we talk about the facts, not only did an Arab player play in Beitar Jerusalem, but it also has an Arab owner. An Arab is a geographic origin not an ethnicity. Religion is besides the point," Beitar Jerusalem spokesperson Oshri Dudai said. "There are Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs, and Jewish Arabs. Our owner is of Yemenite extraction. And Yemen, as far as I remember is in the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula. He is an Arab for all intents and purposes."

What is beautiful about Dudai's response is that it introduces the incendiary discourse on identity to the soccer stadium, which is usually busy with talk of defensive maneuvers and disputes over compensation. Dudai based his argument on arguments of such luminaries as Sami Shalom Shitrit, Yehouda Shenhav and the entire Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition movement, claiming as was claimed many times before that Jews descended from Arab countries are in fact Arabs – Jewish Arabs.

It is true that at the simplest level this is a mere evasion. Dudai was forced to use this definition in order to respond to a Haaretz article that charged that the team never had an Arab player playing for it.  Dudai obviously knows what kind of "Arabs" were meant. No one thinks that Beitar Jerusalem refuses to hire "Mizrahi" Jewish-Arabs. If Dudai needs a hint to what kind of "Arabs" were meant, they are the same as those referred to by Beitar Jerusalem fans when chanting "Death to the Arabs" during games. People don't usually call for their own demise.

But since Dudai decided to introduce identity discourse into Teddy Stadium, into the kingdom of "La Familia" – it is worthwhile to try and understand why he decided to respond the way he did. On the face of it  when Beitar's spokesman says the team's owner, many of its players and a major portion of his teams fanatic fans are "Arabs" – he risks finding himself in a dangerous corner if those calling "Death to Arabs" view his distinction through a less intellectual lens.

But Dudai's statement had a second part: "Haaretz is a cadaver being  artificially kept alive by some Ashkenazi elite living in an ivory tower in central Israel, which is trying to keep it alive by issuing provocation after provocation." And once both parts are read together the argument in its entirety comes to the fore: Haaretz is an Ashkenazi newspaper, Beitar is a (Jewish) Arab club; Haaretz is complaining about the exclusion of Arabs, but Haaretz too excludes Arabs (of the Jewish kind). So, before you preach to us on the exclusion of (Christian and Muslim) Arabs, include (Jewish) Arabs yourself. Or in other words: As long as you exclude us, we will exclude them.

This isn't as complicated as it seems: Dudai is complaining about the priority order in Israeli society. Haaretz is looking after Christian and Muslim Arabs before Jewish Arabs. And in a wider context: The old elite (Male, white, Ashkenazi, Tel-Avivian, privileged, etc.) is looking out for everyone who is behind us in line. It left us outside of the club for decades, so what is the surprise that we are leaving them out of the club for decades too?

Dudai is actually explaining something deeper about the ethnic divide that is searing the skin of the State of Israel: The great hatred held by the "La Famillia Kingdom" and its derivatives towards the non-Jewish-Arabs is related to the Ashkenazi elite's alienating treatment of Jewish-Arabs; to the belittling way those "Ashkenazi," that newspaper Haaretz, looked at them. The product of that belittling gaze was this: We must make it clear to those elites that we are not like the "Arabs." We are not Arab-Jews, but "Mizrahi" or better yet "Israelis."

In this sense, we can understand the calls for "Death to Arabs" as not being a hope for the physical demise of Arabs, but rather for a longing to kill the "Arab" in the "Jewish-Arab" in every passing moment; a longing to cut off a deep part of one's identity in order to be admitted to the club. This is also the reason why the hardcore Beitar fans prefer to bring to the fore their Jewish part: The use of the Star of David, massive signs that broadcast that "Beitar will remain pure forever", etc. The way to the front of the line for Israeli privilege is linked to stressing Jewishness while obscuring Arabness, bringing the religious to the fore while hiding the national – and later in the merging of the religious and the national to create the nationalist.

What is reassuring about Dudai's response is just this: The brave return of the "Arab" into the Jew, and in the hottest loci of Israeli reality, the soccer field. This is indicative of a degree of self-confidence, of power that Dudai and more generally Beitar Jerusalem, the "Mizrahi" have garnered, so that now someone who represents them can call them "Arabs" without fear. This power is related to persons like Miri Regev, Ofira Asayag, and definitely groups like "Ars Poetica" that insist on introducing "Arabness" back into "Mizrahiness" without shame.

This is important, since the greater the place of "Arabness" takes in their identity, the less need they will have for their "Jewishness" to be stressed. This should lead to the diminishing of their hatred of non-Jewish-Arab will diminish, and perhaps one day to Haaretz reporters being welcomed back to Beitar's stadium too.