Not Just Rashida's Grandmother

Roni Sassover.
Josh Breiner

Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother is not the only one who made headlines in recent weeks (and also led to a wave of loving posts of “Sitti – my Palestinian grandmother” on social media). Another “sitti” who became famous all of a sudden is the late grandmother of Roni Sassover, number 9 on the Yamina Knesset roster. A tweet by her aspiring politician granddaughter lifted her out of anonymity and into the focus of some of the Israeli public over the past couple of days.

Some people are upset about the failure of secular Sassover to pass a right-wing-religious trivia quiz she was given by Channel 13’s religious affairs and settlements reporter Akiva Novick. Others are more upset by her tweet from February 2018, when Sassover – a lawyer according to Wikipedia – was apparently too obscure to raise a storm with her racist Israeli off-the-cuff comment. Today she’s better known, and the tweet is another window into what we can expect in the next Knesset. (The polls predict 11 Knesset seats for Yamina, so Sassover has a good chance of becoming a lawmaker and an official representative of the people.)

This is what she tweeted: “My late grandmother, who came to Israel after the Holocaust and voted her whole life for the Labor Party, always said the following: 1. A good Arab is a …. Arab [the ellipsis is in the original]. 2. If you turn your back on an Arab he’ll stick a knife in it. 3. Be a friend to whoever you want, marry only a Jew.” And she ended her tweet with the words: “Granny is always right.”

Sassover offered us an encapsulated, pithy lesson on Israeli society. We’ve known for a long time that social media, the police and the justice system in Israel respond to hatred and aggression with ease and understanding, as long as the writers are members of the Jewish majority. And so, like thousands of other Israelis, Sassover felt secure in tweeting what she did. Despite this tolerance, apparently her legal background stopped her from completing the sentence “A good Arab is a…Arab.” She omitted the word “dead.” The saying is so deeply ingrained in Israeli folklore that anyone who wants to will understand it.

We also know that when a French citizen expresses himself with that same coarseness, but instead of “Arab,” says “Jew,” the antennae at the institutes for the study of anti-Semitism go wild, and professors Dina Porat and Bernard Henri Levi speak worriedly to interviewers on every radio and television station.

The future MK’s tweet came in response to the stabbing attack on land in the Salfit district in the West Bank that was robbed from Palestinians and became the settlement of Ariel and its offshoots.

If Sassover hadn’t relied on her always-right grandma, one could excuse her words as coming from her agitation and sorrow over the death of a Jew. But mentioning the Holocaust and the grandmother, Sassover presents the a-historical, static worldview that justifies, in advance and in retrospect, a permanent state of aggressive, racist “agitation” that incites to murder.

In this worldview we are always a victim. And so an unseen line is drawn between a Palestinian stabber and the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Because otherwise what’s the point of bringing up the fact that the grandmother “came to Israel after the Holocaust?”

There’s no place for the basic historic fact that here the Jews are the expellers and the Palestinians are the expelled, and we kill them much more than they kill us. And when Sassover reveals that her grandmother always voted Labor, she wants to cleanse her of “treacherous Arab-loving leftism,” which today is automatically connected to the very name of this party and its successors.

She is telling us that her grandmother’s opinions were very close to those of Habayit Hayehudi (“The Jewish Home”) today and those of her granddaughter. And in fact they also come close to the basic opinions of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit and Lehava (a movement that fights miscegenation) because the most important thing is for the groom to be Jewish. See that? Right or “left,” our people are united.