In saying “I don’t hate Arabs, but I don’t want them at my swimming pools,” Lower Galilee council chief Moti Dotan was expressing the essence of that deep-rooted form of racism – the kind that doesn’t masquerade as something else or cloak itself in political correctness.
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In his interview with an Israeli radio station on Thursday, Dotan didn’t call for Arabs to be expelled from the country or for the torching of their village mosques. He’s not a member of the La Familia group of Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans and wouldn’t shout “Death to the Arabs!”. The Lower Galilee council head is actually expressing what many Jews – if not a majority of the Jewish population in Israel – think. “In non-Jewish, Arab culture, you go into the pool wearing clothes, trying to dictate all types of clothing, and that’s why it doesn’t suit us. The culture of cleanliness isn’t the same as ours,” he declared, and in the same breath stressed that he has Arab friends.
In the hierarchy of racism, Dotan’s position can be added to those of the nightclub bouncers who refuse entry to Israelis of Ethiopian origin or anyone whose culture “isn’t characterized by my culture at places of leisure such as a swimming pool,” as Dotan put it. He later retracted his choice of words in the way that’s accepted today when it comes to racist slips of the tongue: “It’s possible that I was misunderstood.”
But it’s actually “his” culture that has nurtured this ignorant racism for years and maintains the relations of enmity with the Arab minority, as part of what shapes the national cultural identity of society in Israel. This race culture is fed by a leadership that has made the exclusion and isolation of the country’s Arab citizens the backbone of Israeli patriotism. It’s the same leadership that excludes the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish from the schools curriculum and public discourse; that is afraid of the term “Nakba”; that harasses Arab and Jewish theaters that dare highlight the Palestinian narrative; and that tries to destroy the status of the Arabic language in the country. It also allows Moti Dotan, even if not formally, to establish his own “cultural” rules to rid swimming pools in the Lower Galilee Regional Council of the presence of Arabs.
The appeals made by Knesset members to Interior Minister Arye Dery and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit seeking to have them examine whether this constitutes incitement are correct, but they’re not enough. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is truly serious about his intention to change how he relates to Israel’s Arab citizens – as he declared in his video address to them last week (“Thrive in droves”) – it is appropriate that his voice be heard on the subject and that he make clear that Arabs are wanted everywhere in the country, just like the rest of Israel’s citizens.