A racism allegation evokes a conditioned reflex among Israelis. We automatically reject it. We have been accused of politically-motivated racism so many times; we have been compared – foolishly or maliciously – to Nazi Germany so many times, that our natural inclination is to ignore not only the diagnosis but also the symptoms.
The trouble is that the symptoms have been multiplying recently. There are many concerning expressions of racism in Israeli society. The tendency to shrug them off does not help eliminate them.
The racist ugliness pops up in different contexts. It appears, for example, among Beitar Jerusalem fans, some of whom no longer settle for legitimate hatred of Arabs and expand their hatred to all Muslims. It pops up on a daily basis in verbal attacks against Arabs – in cursing and threats against any Arab, whoever and wherever he may be. It appears in statements made by community heads and council heads, by admission committees which are not ashamed to say that Arabs are unwelcome, that Arabs are inferior, that Arabs are the enemy. It recently emerges to a greater and greater degree in physical attacks: In stone-throwing, in beating, in spitting, and in actual murder attempts.
Outbursts of racist violence are always the tip of the iceberg. The part showing above the water leans on a large mass of silent supporters, who believe that the rioters' actions may be undesirable, but their intention – if not desirable – is understandable and worthy of empathy.
In the State of Israel, racist remarks and racist violence receive a lot of empathy. The Jews, no matter what they do, are always the victims. Racist acts are condemned, therefore, based on merely human rules people have been taught, half-heartedly. They are almost never really punished.
Educators and law enforcers and politicians see racism as a sort of youthful frivolity, which can be understood if not justified. The victims get their 15 seconds of fame in the media. News anchors click their tongues as required, the police "see it as a serious offense." The heads of state remain silent. The "spiritual leaders," the rabbis? Don't make me laugh.
Racism, after all, does not really exist. In fact, admitting that it exists is like joining the haters of Israel and is an expression of anti-patriotism. It almost always ends with some kind of educational punishment, community service, a commitment not to repeat these acts, or at least not to get caught.
Expression of a profound illnessThe protest stays home. On Sunday, dozens of people – dozens – rallied against racism in Jerusalem. Contrary to the price of cottage cheese, racism is not perceived as a real problem in Israel, even among the camp opposing the government. After all, racism cannot exist in the state of the Jews.
And yet it does exist. Not only does it exist, it thrives. It's hard to even name the reason for the outburst of the recent violent hatred. The usual reasons – war, terror attacks, a political or economic crisis – do not exist. Israeli racism, it seems, has moved up a notch. It is no longer racism of every once in while. It is everyday racism, part of the normal fabric of life. Cursing Arabs, hitting Arabs, threatening Arabs. Why is today different from other days?
Racism is not eczema. It is not a surface disease, but an expression of a profound illness destroying the tissue. A government which really abhors racism would work to nip this disease in the bud – and declare that racism is a national problem, a red line whose crossing is unforgivable. It would punish the criminals, not through "educational" punishments, but through heavy fines and long prison terms.
It is as important that the Israeli society express not only its rejection of the criminals, but also solidarity with the victims. In response to an anti-Semitic slur directed at Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the student leaders during the 1968 unrest in France, masses took to the streets of Paris and chanted, "We are all German Jews." It's time to say, "We are all Arabs." Anyone who loathes racism is an Arab, just like he is Jewish and black and Chinese and Indian.
Yes, racist ladies and gentlemen, what you've felt is true – I am an Arab.