Failing to Condemn Racism in Abu Gosh

In Israel, opposition to racism is likely to be interpreted as supporting the left, and in their silence, members of centrist and right-wing parties show us they are more afraid being called a leftist than a racist.

Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh
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Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh

The first to arrive in Abu Gosh, after dozens of cars in the village were destroyed and walls of homes were sprayed with racist graffiti, was Shas MK Aryeh Deri. Conspicuously absent among the photos of Deri, now serving in the opposition, were senior politicians, including government ministers. They didn't trouble themselves to come to Abu Gosh and later didn't bother to come to the neighborhood of Beit Hanina to express solidarity with the residents and express disgust at the acts of racism against them.

Education Minister Shay Piron, who declared at the start of his appointment that a war on racism is the primary strategic goal for the education system, simply failed to show up, as did the head of his party, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who made do with condemnation from above through a television broadcast. The same goes for other prominent members of Yesh Atid. For example, MK Ofer Shelah, who is considered by many to hold a humanist worldview, stuck to his standard role as spokesman for his party's leader and failed to show up and express his revulsion at the racism that ran amok in Abu Gosh – a community known for its almost Zionist loyalty to the State of Israel.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnuah and the minister in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, apparently didn't see any connection between racism toward the Arabs of Beit Hanina and the long freeze in the peace process she is supposed to be setting into motion. Not one among the current members of the government, which pretends to be a center-right government, seized a golden opportunity to reap political dividends – missing an opportunity with Israelis who didn't vote them into office and an opportunity to cultivate an enlightened public image of being with disgust for racism. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had come to Beit Hanina or Abu Gosh he could have improved his image in the world – currently he is seen as someone opposing peace and encouraging racism - yet he still missed the opportunity.

This phenomenon has two explanations that in the end equate to a one. The members of Yesh Atid, Hatnuah, and Kadima, parties trying to appear centrist – do not dare come out against racism toward Arabs for fear of being depicted as leftists. In other words, racism in Israel is considered a political position and not a value antagonistic to a democratic, liberal, and humanist worldview. Consequently, opposition to racism is perceived in Israel as a political position, one that is mistakenly associated with the left.

But the reason the political left opposes racism isn't at all political, but rather stems from an espousal of liberal-humanist values. One way or another, since opposition to racism in Israel is likely to be interpreted as support for the left, members of centrist and right-wing parties are more afraid being called a leftist than a racist.

This situation is unique to Israel as a country that pretends to be Western and democratic. Is it conceivable that any minister in a right-wing government in the West would go out of their way to condemn racism against citizens of their country? In the Western world, even among people of the right, equality of opportunity and the struggle against racism are considered universal values, a moral axiom beyond political preferences. But this is not the case here in Israel. The fact that those appealing to the center and the right are supporting racism - by their inaction - proves that too many people among us shamelessly think of racism as a legitimate political position.

'Racism or assimilation' sprayed on a wall in Abu Ghosh, June 18, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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