Allow me for a moment to discard everything I have learned about political correctness and let me put all the cards on the table. I am sick of walking on thin ice. Years after Salah Shabati (a story about a Jewish refugee who moved his family to Israel shortly after the official establishment of the ''promised land") met Rabinowitz, there's a sense that the term "melting pot" is a bad joke.
The stories you will read here may remind you of a dangerous trend in Germany during the 40's, and what they share is a feeling of unease. "Israel", one of the interviewees will say "is the most racist country in the world, it's ingrained. Racism is prevalent in Israel and the rest of the world. Are we going backwards instead of solving the problem under the guise of "progress?"
You look darker in your pictures
I have known Etty Sharoni (30), whose parents are Czechs, since primary school. Even then she was full of life with a lot of insight for her age. For the past ten years she has been living in Sweden in a small town near Stockholm.
"All my life I have been asked whether I am adopted, because I have curly hair and dark skin and my parents are fair. Everyone was convinced I was Yemenite or Moroccan," she says.
Until six months ago she had a Swedish boyfriend, but now while on a trip to Israel she says that where dating and ethnic origin are concerned, Israel reminds her of things she would rather forget.
"While I was abroad I registered on dating sites in Israel, before I left for Israel I sent a message to a guy from Haifa who I liked. An hour after landing here he called me on my cell phone. Before catching my breath he said something like 'your picture is very dark.' I wasn't quite sure what this was supposed to mean, but I felt an arrow in my stomach, as if someone had poured cold water over me.
"After two seconds I asked him what he meant, he explained that in my profile I had written that I was Ashkenazi, but I look Sephardi in the photograph and he wanted to find out whether I was lighter in true life. It's so ironic. In Sweden I'm a great hit. They love my dark skin. It was a very unpleasant welcome."
Sharoni says there was also a guy from Israel who called her in Sweden and his second question was "hang on, what origin are you from?" According to Sharoni she was shocked and didn't hide it. He ended the conversation with "you are very aggressive." "What about that? I'm dark and aggressive, truly a terrible problem," she makes fun of herself.
"Over the years I have learned that racism, whether overt or covert emits an odor that cannot be mistaken, even without words. I never play along with it when I meet such people. As fate would have it, on the flight here I met a Japanese guy who works at the Swedish embassy and for the past two weeks we haven't stopped kissing on the Tel Aviv promenade."
Ilanit Avi (31) a marketing manager at a hi-tech company from Ramat Hasharon, is the daughter of a Polish mother and Iranian father.
"One day a guy from Jdate called me, we spoke for half a day - we had an amazing conversation. He told me about himself and I told him about myself. I had a very good feeling about him. After a two-hour phone conversation someone had to suggest meeting, but then he asked where I was from.
"During the time, I lived in Ramat Gan, and his immediate response was to ask me whether I was Iraqi. I told him I was unable to meet him. I have a problem with guys who ask such questions over the phone. It's problematic that these questions come up at all in this day and age. After my parents and grandparents on my mother's side suffered racial discrimination in Europe, there is no reason I should accept this type of discrimination in my own country."
Don't you look at a guy's origin when looking for partner?
"Until now, I have only met Ashkenazi guys over the internet, but this wasn't intentional, it simply happened. All my previous boyfriends came from a Tunisian, Moroccan or Persian background. I don't have a racist agenda, I have a partner agenda, and my parents are proof of this."
What about those who say "I'll tell you later"
"I ignore them; I don't go out with cowards"
'I'll tell you later"
Gadi is a tall guy, dark and well built. He belongs to a new race called "I'll tell you later." This is a race that the greatest scientists haven't yet discovered. But here in Israel it is pretty popular. The dating sites on the internet provide a form in which members are asked to fill in their ethnic origin (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, mixed) or "other" (usually not Jewish), there is even an option of "I'll tell you later."
Why did you select "I'll tell you later"? Is your ethnic background not clear?
"What does it have to do with anything? The form also asks you to fill in your income, another silly thing. I don’t think anyone needs to know how much I earn, it's a personal matter."
And is your ethnic origin also a personal matter?
"Yes, that's my personal protest against the racist segmentation procedure. It supports something that should have been eradicated long ago."
"The problem with men who refrain from filling in their ethnic background is more complex," says Shlomit Cohen, a single from Ramat Hasharon. "Somehow, it's only Sephardi men who write this. I have been registered on the site for years and I still haven't come a across an Ashkenazi guy who has written 'I'll tell you later.' I wonder why?"
She and Gadi agree that everything hinges on the question of why on earth ethnic segmentation is required on dating sites. Gadi: "You can look at a photograph and you can form an impression via a phone conversation, isn't that enough? The practice is very regretful."
Anyone but a Moroccan like my family
There is not only Ashkenazi discrimination, but also Sephardic discrimination. Ruthi (32) a lawyer living in Tel Aviv for the past seven years comes from a well know Moroccan family in the south of the country. She is careful not to date men from Sephardi backgrounds particularly Moroccans. "The first thing I look at in the form is the origin. If the guy is Moroccan, he is out of the question."
Because it's familiar and I don't like it. Once I met a Moroccan guy through the site and I even went out with him for a month and a half, but it didn't work out. Although he was an intelligent, educated and successful lawyer, he still had that eastern mentality."
What does an eastern mentality mean?
"It's matters of honor, the sticky, hysterical, loud, gossiping family that has no respect for privacy. All their exaggerated ceremonies don't appeal to me. I went through it in my own family, I grew up that way and I hated it. I just waited for the minute when I could get away. That's not the way I want bring up my future family."
Some people would describe their Hungarian or Polish families in exactly the same way, why can't you consider a relationship with a Moroccan guy who thinks like yourself?
"I'm afraid to take the chance."
So you only go out with Ashekenazi guys?
"Yes, and paradoxically, some are very racist, but I understand them."
Don't you feel as though you are shooting yourself in the foot?
(Hesitation): In my head I understand that I am behaving exactly like them, but in reality I am not able to rid myself of the fear that the family I will raise will remind me of my background. I want to escape it.
Like a call girl
Reuven, a 28-year-old student, refuses to go out with Russian women. "Even though my mother is Iraqi and my father is from Russian descent, they don't want me to bring a Russian girl home either. I recognize the facial features and don't talk to them. When a Russian girl talks to me I never answer her."
"Russian girls always look like call girls to me, and before anyone jumps at me, I suggest entering internet sites to see how Russian women present themselves in their pictures. In 90 percent of cases their poses are clearly provocative, and please forgive me the ten percent I have offended."