The Racism Playoffs

Terrible thing that happened in the European elections, but not quite as disturbing as what is happening right here in Israel.

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"A good Arab is a dead Arab" and "Kahane lives," reads the graffiti sprayed on a Jerusalem mosque.
"A good Arab is a dead Arab" and "Kahane lives," reads the graffiti sprayed on a Jerusalem mosque.Credit: Reuters

The victory of extreme right-wing parties in elections for the European Parliament was reported here with a trace of muted panic. The panic stems from the fact that extreme and even less extreme right-wing parties in Europe are identified with anti-Semitic views. However, this panic is tempered by the fact that most of these movements are at the forefront of anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe.

The dilemma facing Israel is clear. Should it condemn the rise of the extreme right and declare Europe to be a continent tainted with anti-Semitism, or should it continue to host representatives of these racist parties, some of whom have voiced their opposition to boycotts directed at Israel and have even forged close and friendly ties with leaders of the settler movement here? The Israeli way out of this dilemma is not complicated. Israel rejects the anti-Semitism but embraces the racism. It views the skinheads and their swastika tattoos with sincere concern, yet shares their opinions and understands their behavior toward foreigners.

In any case, European anti-Semitism is of the “beneficial” type. The more it flourishes, the more Jews flee and come to the haven of the Jewish state. The absorption of European Jews will now be easier than ever before. Once in Israel, they will continue to enjoy the same racist atmosphere that now permeates much of Europe; they will be able to openly express anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments without being considered racists, and they will be able to abide by Jewish racist laws while embracing the same platform that Europe’s racist parties espouse, namely, stopping the entry of Arab, Muslim, or any other foreign workers. Here they will find out that Israel can easily fit into the European Parliament, even though the parliament’s new face is still a far cry from the level of racism that characterizes Israel. But as the old saying goes, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law.”

Ten years ago, researchers at the University of Haifa published the results of a survey conducted among tenth grade (16-year-old) Jewish and Arab pupils. The survey examined their attitudes toward each other, and the results were dreadful. Fifty two percent of Jewish pupils said they were unwilling to meet Arabs, 74 percent were unwilling to host them in their homes and 65 percent did not want them as neighbors. While Arab pupils responded with similar aversion, they still lagged behind their Jewish counterparts by 20 percent. A later study conducted by the Abraham Fund found that 50 percent of Jewish respondents stated that they felt hatred when overhearing a conversation in Arabic.

The high school pupils who participated in those surveys are now 20-24 years old, adult citizens with voting rights, some of whom probably already have children of their own. Have their opinions changed? Will they or their children want or be able to shake off these deeply rooted attitudes? That is very unlikely, since those tenth graders learned this hatred somewhere, incorporating it into their identities. One could venture a guess that were the Anti-Defamation League to conduct a survey of racism in Israel, the local results would make global anti-Semitism pale in comparison. In contrast to Europe, one doesn’t have to wonder whether racism here stems from political, economic, religious or ideological reasons. All of the above are true.

Local expressions of concern and warnings of a sharp turn to the right in Europe could be taken more seriously if Israel itself demonstrated real determination to uproot racist concepts that have been embedded into its fabric, if discriminatory laws based on race were not on the Knesset’s agenda, if the minority’s language were not under threat of being removed as one of Israel’s official languages, if landlords who refused to rent to Arabs were prosecuted, and if people slashing tires and spraying graffiti calling for “death to Arabs” were considered terrorists just as are Arab stone throwers.

In the meantime, our place is guaranteed. Dangerous Europe, even after the recent elections, still has a long way to go in order to overtake Israel in a competition of racism.

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