Racist Letters Roil Israel

CNN reports on racist letters emanating from ultra-orthodox rabbis or their wives in Israel. Thirty wives of rabbis called on Jewish-Israeli women not to marry Palestinian-Israeli men, alleging that they would universally be subjected to physical abuse. The incident follows an earlier one in which rabbis urged Jewish-Israelis not to rent to Palestinian-Israelis (can you say ‘racial covenant’?)

The letters also follow on a demonstration in Bat Yam against Jewish-Israeli girls dating Palestinian-Israeli men.

Inter-faith marriage is frowned on by religious Israelis, and there was criticism in Israel of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

Israel, like Lebanon and some Muslim countries, for the most part makes no provision for civil marriage, requiring individuals to marry within the religious law of their sect. Israel’s rabbinate opposes civil marriage in part out of fear it would encourage inter-faith marriage. At the moment, couples of different faith heritages in Israel must go to Cyprus or elsewhere abroad to marry, and have the marriage recognized on their return. Such a marriage cannot be performed in Israel itself.

The recent racist calls and demonstrations were condemned on Wednesday by the Israeli Labor Party. Party head and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak issued a statement saying, “The Labor Party under my leadership is active in bringing together the various groups of Israel’s citizens, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.” Labor only has 19 seats in the 120-seat Knesset or Israeli parliament. Conservative rabbis also condemned the racist calls, but it should be noted that Orthodox Judaism has legal supremacy in Israel and so the Conservatives are not very powerful there.

A recent poll showed that 44 percent of Jewish-Israelis support the rabbis’ call not to rent or sell land to Palestinian-Israelis, while 48 percent oppose it. Some prominent Israeli politicians, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have called for Palestinian-Israelis somehow to be stripped of their Israeli nationality altogether. Denaturalization — taking someone’s citizenship rights away from them– is a serious human rights abuse.

You wonder if 44 percent of Israelis have ever seen the classic film, Gentleman’s Agreement, about a sad time in the US when Jews were not allowed to stay in ‘restricted’ hotels and, of course, covenants restricting their ability to buy homes in many neighborhoods were all too common.

…the lines about “same flesh as yours” and “don’t treat me to any more lessons of tolerance–I’m sick of it!”

Note that the ultra-Orthodox calls for discrimination concern Israeli citizens of Palestinian heritage, some 23 percent of the Israeli population. They cannot be compared to laws in the Arab world forbidding foreigners, including Israelis, from owning real property. The actual analogy would be to a country like Morocco, which has a Jewish minority, and where Moroccan Jews can freely buy and sell land. That said, there is plenty of racism in the Arab world, and apologists for the growing ranks of Israeli racists have to decide if their defense really is going to be that Abu Ahmed in Zarqa, Jordan, feels the same way. As we all should have learned in kindergarten, two wrongs don’t make a right.

5 Responses

  1. It’s worse than that. It’s not just that they won’t marry say, a Jew to a Muslim. It’s that they get to say who is a Jew in the first place. This has resulted in—wait for it—the descendants of Holocaust survivors being told by the Chief Rabbinate that they aren’t Jewish and so can’t be married in Israel to another Jew.

  2. It seems that many can’t see the forest for the trees. It is not like those letters are an aberration. Far from it: These racist expressions are but the latest manifestation of the racist ethos inherent in Israel/Zionist, as a settler-colonialist state/ideology. Any state (whether it calls itself Jewish, zionist, Islamic, or whatever) which specifies its citizens on the basis of ethnicity/race and codifies the differences in law, so that advantages accrue to one segment of the population and not the other can be judged racist. Israel is such a state. It declared itself the “state of the Jewish people,” not the state of its citizens, 20% of whom are not Jews. The US scrapping its constitution and declaring itself a White state, or the state of the Christian people everywhere and treating non-whites/non-Christians as second class citizens or subhumans, would be an appropriate analogy. The assertions in Israeli law — Israel has no constitution and no Bill of Rights — that “Israel is the state of the Jewish people” can mean only one thing: that non-Jews (Palestinians) are by definition foreigners in their own homeland; that non-Jews really have no place in the “state of the Jewish”.

    Zionism is not merely a “belief,” it is a political movement with a history combined with an ideology, and today the Zionist state, Israel, defines Zionism in practice, which is the most important way to experience Zionism and understand its colonial and racist nature.
    “Given the initial aims of the movement, it could not have been otherwise. Once the premise was laid down, the inexorable logic of history determined the consequences. Wanting to create a purely Jewish, or predominantly Jewish, state in Arab Palestine in the twentieth century could not but lead to a colonial type situation and to the development (completely normal, sociologically speaking) of a racist state of mind, and in the final analysis to a military confrontation between the two ethnic groups.”
    Maxime Rodinson, _Israel: a colonial-settler state?_ Monad Press, 1973.

    If you believe that it is justified to create and to continue to maintain a Jewish exclusivist state in Palestine–which is common to virtually all known strains of Zionism–then your views are inherently colonial even if you don’t acknowledge it. Such views can also be judged racist since those goals could not be achieved without dispossessing the native population of Palestine (the Palestinian people) and denying them their inalienable rights in their homeland.
    “The principle setting up the Israeli case of settler- colonialism is that in a certain territory (as yet not well-defined, since various Zionist parties claim different borders for the territory) members of the group known in Israel law as the `Jewish people’ have superior and exclusive political rights as opposed to all others, including natives of the same territory.”
    Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, _Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel_, Pluto Press, 1992, p. 80.

  3. Nothing I could scribble could add much on this subject to an opinion piece by Bradley Burston in Ha’aretz yesterday: link to haaretz.com

    One trouble with all the yakkety-yak about complexities like Notagainistan and Palisraelistine is that pretty much nobody is interested in finding the ‘right thing to do,’ in the sense of what’s going to produce the maximum kindness and stability and sustainability, that old Golden Rule stuff, which is where I think the species has to go if we are to have a prayer of persisting on the planet. But between tribalism and self-interest and all the stuff that zooms around the ol’ limbic system, and our wonderful skills at rationalization and ratiocination and cognitive dissonance, my long bet is that ain’t gonna happen.

    Which leads to the Pampers commercial I just saw on the ‘tube: Perfect, sleeping little babies from around the world, all unaware of the motivations and behaviors that await them, then that tear-jerking picture of our wondrous planet floating in space, the sweet female voice-over singing part of “Silent Night” (particularly that “sleep in heavenly peace” bit) and a logo line reading “Let there be peace on earth.”

    Pushing a product made from petroleum, that’s OIL, boy, that transports human fecal matter from your dear baby’s bottom to the trash can to the transfer station to a landfill somewhere, at that place where we so glibly talk about throwing stuff “away” to, where with any luck it will be available for the archeologists among the rats and cockroaches to excavate and puzzle over and maybe even eat, somewhere down the road…

  4. It’s great to see CNN covering the rampant racism in Israeli society. A few more examples can be found here:
    link to canpalnet-ottawa.org

    Tridant’s post above gets to the crux of the matter: the Zionist ideology upon which Israel is founded is essentially racist. It is not anti-Semitic to oppose Zionism. Zionism is not Judaism and in any case we all have the right, even the duty to expose inhumane and racist practices advocated in the name of any religion and fanatical Muslims, Christians and Jews have all at some time been guilty of crimes against fellow human beings.

  5. @Jon: I would like to have more info on that issue, where should I find it? Thanks

    @ Belalin Best proof of how little antisemitic is to oppose Zionism is that plenty of Jews do oppose zionism. Some for religious motifs (Naturei Karta), plenty more for political reasons and precisely because of its racist nature. Check, fi, the international Jewish anti zionist network or jewsnotzionists.com etc.

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