Opinion |

Only a Jew Can Be an Israeli

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Randy and Sheila Velasco and their two daughters at a hearing on their prospective deportation.
Randy and Sheila Velasco and their two daughters at a hearing on their prospective deportation.Credit: Meged Gozani
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

There’s no such thing as non-Jewish Israelis; Israel will do everything so there never will be. There are nonevangelical Americans, non-Catholic French people, non-Protestant Germans and even non-Muslim Arabs. There are some 1.8 million Canadians of Chinese origin and at least 80,000 Swedes of Serbian origin. They are all considered members of the nation of the state in which they live. Judaism hasn’t yet decided whether it is a religion or a nationality, but Israel has decided that a person who is not a Jew cannot be an Israeli. It will deport such people or at least exclude them from Israeliness. Israel doesn’t belong to those people.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 48Credit: Haaretz

How many times have you said “Israeli” when you really meant “Jewish”? How many times have you said “Arabs” and meant “non-Israelis”? That’s the attitude of the state to its Arab citizens and that’s also the explanation for the abuse of the children of foreign workers: children who were born, raised and educated here, who have no language other than Hebrew and no society other than Israeli society are not Israelis. They dream of serving in the army and becoming obedient, dedicated soldiers, but even this sacred entry threshold is not enough.

Israel wants to deport them. It doesn’t want to be the state of the Israelis, not even the state of the Jews. It wants to be the state only of Jews. Who is an Israeli? A Jew, and only a Jew.

A protest against deportation of Israeli-born children of foreign workers, November 7, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani

By acting in this manner, the state brings racism to new heights of distillation. The term judenrein takes on new meaning, not significantly less chilling than its original meaning, changing from a place that is free of Jews to a place that is free of non-Jews. Ethnic purity. When this ultranationalism is directed against Israel’s Arab citizens, there are numerous ways in which it can be justified: their dubious loyalty to the state, in light of their nation being the enemy of their state; the struggle over the land; the constant suspicion that they are a fifth column; the “demographic danger,” real or imagined; the religious fundamentalism and their way of life, which supposedly pose a threat to secular, liberal Israel.

These excuses cannot be used against the Israeli-born children of foreign workers. Here there’s no cult of security, no danger, even imagined, except for the danger of ethnic purity. It’s pure racism. Myron, who is in the sixth grade at the Gavrieli-Carmel elementary school in central Tel Aviv, is an Israeli child, all-Israeli, only Israeli, and he can’t be considered as such, because he’s not Jewish.

Israel should get down on its knees to thank the parents of these children, who care for its elderly with endless devotion, sometimes even more than their own children do. This phenomenon, extreme in its magnitude, in which elderly Israelis have their own servant at bargain-basement prices, has its negative aspects, and still, Israel owes a huge moral debt to these workers.

Now Israel must also thank their children, because the hunt for them in the schools is the most important civics lesson Israeli children have ever had: You can see from the window of your classroom what kind of a society you’re growing up in. More than a thousand lessons in history, and the associations they carry, are taking place before your very eyes: agents of the immigration police who abduct children from their bedrooms and their classrooms because of their origins; terrified messages sent by the children to their friends: I’ve been arrested, Mom has been arrested, and talk of hiding children in attics.

The fate of thousands of children who are shot, beaten and humiliated in the occupied territories never touched the hearts of Israel’s children or their parents. Brainwashed and ignorant, they have been trained to think that this happens because these people are “terrorists.” But when the abductions and the deportations come to the schools in Tel Aviv, the children and their parents can no longer avert their eyes and remain indifferent.

Evil and racism have been promoted: They stand stark naked, without excuses, before Israel’s children. Interior Minister Arye Dery and the director general of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, have become the greatest educators of this generation. Their pedagogic poem will be inscribed deep in the hearts of Israel’s schoolchildren. A friend being nabbed at the school gate and deported is a formative, unforgettable experience. And now, for tomorrow’s homework: Write 100 times: Only a Jew can be an Israeli, only a Jew can be an Israeli, until you understand it.

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