Opinion |

Israel's Racist Lynch Mobs Are Hunting Arabs. And They're Fueled by Government Incitement

I was assaulted in Tel Aviv for 'looking Arab.' My privilege - being a Jew of Mizrahi origin - spared me, but won’t protect millions of Israel’s Arab citizens, serially delegitimized by legislation, three of whom were viciously attacked last weekend

The three men from Shfar’am who were attacked on the beach in Kiryat Haim, August 27, 2018.
The three men from Shfar’am who were attacked on the beach in Kiryat Haim, August 27, 2018.Credit: Gil Eliahu

I remember it very clearly.

A friend of mine and myself, both Jews of Mizrahi origin, were trying to split up a big dog fight in the center of Tel Aviv that had escalated quickly. People started screaming. One of the dogs was about to be eaten alive by the other. It was an unpleasant scene. Nearby, a political rally was being held, and there were undercover cops around.

Within seconds, some of those undercover cops surrounded us. They first took down my friend, holding him on the ground, choking and beating him. Next, it was my turn. I was thrown on to the police motorbike. The only thing that went through my head was the fear they would pull out a gun and shoot my friend. I started screaming.

I knew that if they heard our accents and understood that we were only "Arab-looking" and not actually Arabs they would leave us alone. It was true. The moment they understood they made a mistake and mistook us for Arabs they let us go - and disappeared back into the crowd.

We were left with our emotional and physical bruises and went home beaten down inside and out. I remember the relief of knowing that I had the right accent and the right name on my identity card to save me in the Israel of today.

But "real" Arabs don't have that privilege.

Last weekend, three Arab citizens of Israel went to the beach near Haifa. A group of right-wing vigilantes passed by and asked them if they were Arabs. When they confirmed their identity, the gang brutally attacked them with chains, sticks, and knives. The young Jews attacking them said they were "Arab dogs" and they should not be at that beach; they should go to their "own places."

Passerby Yair Alaluf challenged and stopped the attackers, and called the police and an ambulance; he saved the victims from a complete lynching.

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The victims filed a police complaint, and the story was widely reported; Israel’s President Rivlin condemned the attack, saying: "We are all destined to live here together in this country, and are not doomed to live like this."

President Rivlin has already proven himself as a lone voice on the political right who defends the equal rights of Israel’s minorities. Others, in the government, did not join his condemnation.

Just imagine if the roles were reversed: the degree of outrage, the responses from prominent politicians would be exponentially louder. If Arabs had attacked Jews for being Jews, then this Netanyahu government's ministers would have declared war (again) on the Arabs citizens in the media. None has stood with the president to honor the passerby who stood up for his fellow citizens against a racist mob.

But was the big news here? Arabs attacked in a country that, thanks to the Nation-State Law, now considers them officially inferior to their Jewish fellow citizens.

We can't be surprised that a violent fringe in Israel feels legitimized, when the government itself backs legislated racism.

Two years later, I still remember the horror of being assaulted myself. But I always knew I had the chance of finding shelter when my identity was revealed. I knew, in general, that the system was on my side and they can’t touch me.

That, despite the fact that we ourselves decided there was little point filing an official police complaint, not least because of the minimal chances of a satisfactory outcome from an investigation conducted by a police force that tends to protect its own and has a poor record of investigating police assaults on Mizrahi Jews as well.

How does it feel when you don’t have the right accent, the right ID card, if you’re not the "right" kind of citizen and you don’t have the full backing of a legal system to support you? These feelings – of abandonment, vilification, silencing and targeting for physical assault – should ring alarm bells from the darkest pages of Jewish history.

Vigilante attacks on Arabs in Israel, whether citizens or not, are hardly new, but the power of our current political leadership and its actions legitimize these incidents more and more.

Every act of political incitement, every deliberate silence on violence against Arabs, is a threat to the safety, equality and legitimacy of millions of Israelis. For Israel’s Jewish right, "Arab" has become such a toxic characteristic it spills over into a hatred of anyone who even "looks" or "sounds" Arab.

If Israel is to have a future as a sustainable secure homeland for all its citizens, we have to hope that there are many more Alalufs out there.

Noam Shuster Eliassi is a peace activist, public speaker and comedian who has managed a range of peace-building initiatives. She is a Brandeis University graduate and was awarded the Davis Peace Prize for developing peacebuilding programs for HIV positive youth in Kigali, Rwanda. Twitter: @ShusterNoam

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