Israeli Racism Is Evolving, but It's Okay, Because the Joke Is Being Told About Arabs

There is a link between the discrimination against immigrants from Morocco a generation ago and today's anti-Arab racism.

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Graffiti reading 'Death to the Arabs.' No longer such a rare sight.Credit: Courtesy of Rabbis for Human Rights

Here’s a joke. David Levy, a former Israeli minister who hailed from Morocco, is walking down the street with his wife and son. The kid falls into a pit. Levy asks his wife: “Should we get him out, or make another one?”

That’s how it is with Moroccans and how they treat their children, we were told in the 1980s. There was a book of David Levy jokes; the land was awash in them, all racist and all sickening.

Don’t laugh yet: Since then, racism has evolved. Now the same is being said, in all seriousness, by the defense minister, the education minister (!) and the minister for public security, seconded by the chief of police. It’s okay now, though, because now the joke is being told about Arabs.

The message is the same, though: Oriental Jews (derogatorily known as “Frenkim” – sort of local schvartze) and Arabs (derogatorily known as “Arabushim” – sort of “ragheads”) treat their children’s lives with disdain. Their loss is not our loss. We sanctify life (“dying for our country is good”) and they sanctify death. They don’t care if their children die, they have a lot of them anyway; they aren’t human like us.

What they told us at the time about North African Jews is now being said about Arabs – “Moroccans with knives” or “death to Arabs” but the dehumanization is eternal. Moshe Ya’alon, Gilad Erdan and Roni Alsheich say our grief cannot be compared with that of the Palestinians; Naftali Bennett says they send their children to die for money. Wild beasts.

I don’t know how many Palestinian houses in mourning have been visited by Ya’alon, Bennett, Erdan and Alsheich. Each with his own personal history and occupation has guilt to bear for a great deal of Palestinian grief, and they are surely proud of it; but it is doubtful if they ever met mourning Palestinian parents.

In recent months I have visited a great many Palestinian homes in mourning, who join the hundreds of Palestinian homes in mourning I have visited over the years. In all I met only pain and grief, shock and sorrow, exactly like in the Jewish homes. Not an ounce less of grief and suffering, if the cases are comparable at all. Sometimes these feelings were accompanied by a sense of national pride, like with some of the families of Israeli war casualties. There is no difference between them.

Naama and Yosef Mahdi sat in their tiny house in the Al-Arroub refugee camp and wept over Omer, their 16-year-old son who had been killed by soldiers. Ismail Saada cried over his son Haitham, 14. Hassan Tobi mourned his son Ahmad, 16, and Eid Abu-Eid sobbed for his daughter Rokiya, 13, killed by soldiers.

Abed and Hala Abdullah were the most solicitous of all: They would drive their two daughters home from beauty school in Nablus every day, lest harm come to them. But Israeli soldiers sprayed their car with bullets one day, “by mistake,” killing Samah, 18. I will never forget their faces of sorrow and pain. They will probably never recover. And like them are thousands of homes in mourning in the territories.

The despicable condescension of the ministers toward these parents’ feelings is, of course, aimed at fanning the lowest fires in Israeli society. If they aren’t people like us then we, the Chosen People, may do anything to them. Look at us! How sanctified, how enlightened our lives are; look at them! savages, how inferior they are. And they were joined by the chief of police, though by whose authority he dares to talk that way is unclear, in his transparent effort to suck up to his minister.

But behind all this lies the structural racism in society. They talk like this because they know that most Israelis think the same, and most Israelis want them to talk like this.

That David Levy joke was told, with pain, by his daughter, the Knesset member Orli Levi-Abekasis, in a television interview some weeks ago. A representative of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Levy-Abekasis would naturally not notice the connection between the traumatic racism her father experienced and this racism, which is shared by the very party to which she belongs.