Photo: Barel Efraim
Protest in solidarity with soldier
Photo: Barel Efraim
Ben-Dror Yemini

On racism and criticism in Israel

Op-ed: For Bezalel Smotrich's information - there's a higher chance the Arab baby born on the same day as your son will be a life-saving doctor than a life-taking terrorist.

There is racism in Israel. There is racism in every country. But a sorrow shared is not a sorrow halved. MK Bezalel Smotrich's comments constitute pure racism. So the question is not whether racism exists, it's how widespread is it. The thousands of hooligans who are marching in Sweden, Finland, Germany and other countries in Europe and making racist calls don't make these countries racist. The drastic change in polls, which indicate on objection to allowing more refugees into Europe and of the fear of Islam that is prevalent in the continent, also don't make these countries racist. All of that is true, until you start talking about Israel.



The supporters of the "end of democracy," "racism" and "fascism" school of thought enthusiastically seized the Hebron shooting incident with both hands. The public support of the soldier who shot the already-wounded terrorist didn't cause them any sorrow. On the contrary, since the incident, it's been hard getting the smile off their face. The cheers from the Haaretz offices continue unabated. The celebrators got "proof" of their claims that Israel is slipping into darker places.


The scene of the Hebron attack (Photo: EPA)
The scene of the Hebron attack (Photo: EPA)


This isn't another dispute between the "left" and the "right." Many of those identified as "right wingers" - senior officers and kippah-wearers - have clearly and unequivocally backed the IDF chief and the defense minister. They support an uncompromising fight against terrorism, but they know - and say - that the soldier strayed from the IDF's norms. The anger of many young Israelis comes not necessarily from identifying with the soldier (200 people attended the "big support rally," not 200,000). The anger is linked to the fact there are those who portray IDF soldiers as murderers, while the murderers are portrayed as victims.


The soldier's actions are unusual, and should be condemned. It's only the radical left wing and the radical right wing, in a predictable show of disgusting unity, that are portraying what the soldier did as norm.


A political chasm

Sociologist Prof. Oz Almog approached the case with a scalpel in hand. "The political chasm between the opinion leaders in the secular press and the majority of young people in Israel is only becoming bigger, and is manifested in polar interpretation of the reality in the news and mutual hostility," Almog wrote. And it's only the beginning.


"The young people are angry at the media not just because they think it blows isolated incidents out of proportion (because of political considerations and for ratings), but also because they think the press dis not empathetic to their spontaneous anger over Muslim murderousness and Western hypocrisy, and because the press interprets this anger as primitive, out of control, moonstruck, racist and incited behavior," Almog explains.


I don't agree with every word in Almog's article, only with about 90 percent - and that's a lot. But Almog is also taking the wind out of the "end of democracy" school's sails, and that's important.


On who is a racist

For the information of Smotrich and his handful of supporters: There is a higher chance that the Arab child born on the same day as his son will be a doctor than a terrorist. Over 10 percent of Israel's doctors are Arabs. Many of them rose through the ranks all the way to hospitals' highest administration levels. They're among the best surgeons. They don't take lives, they save lives. They're a model of a slightly more dignified and fair life for the Arab minority among the Jewish majority. The percentage of those who grow up to become terrorists, meanwhile, is closer to zero than it is to a tenth of a percent. But Smotrich managed to turn this picture on its head. This is what anti-Semitism did to Jews - it portrayed all of them as dangerous. That's what Smotrich did to Arabs.


MK Bezalel Smotrich (Photo: Gil Yohanan) (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


The election law and Basic Law: The Knesset bar a candidate who incites to racism from running for parliament. When, ahead of the next elections, a hearing is held about whether to allow Haneen Zoabi to run for Knesset, Smotrich's name should also be added to the list of shame. They should both be barred from running.


Not many hours have passed since Smotrich made his comments, and the predictable headline of a column in a newspaper for people who think they're enlightened announced that the racist represents settlers. Brace yourself for articles that will tell us he represents all Israelis. While you're at it, go all the way. Anyone who claims a Muslim terrorist represents Muslims is of course a racist. But those who say an Israeli racist represents all Israelis is enlightened. Common sense, needless to say, has never been the strong suit of racists - neither on the right or the left.


The lack of public discourse on the Supreme Court

There is something very frustrating about the public discourse in the wake of the criticism made against the Supreme Court. In fact, there is no discourse, no debate, no exchanging of opinions. "This is a threat to the legal system, the crossing of a line, a brutal statement," said MK Shelly Yachimovich. What does she know about the legal history of the United States? What does she know about Roosevelt's criticism of Supreme Court judges, who repeatedly struck down socially-oriented legislation? Nothing. And yet she rambles on. This is another marker on the way to fascism, claimed those for whom anything has become over the past few years another proof of fascism. A fascist country wouldn't allow them to write, over and over again, over the course of years, that they're living in a fascist country.


The discourse is frustrating because others, including yours truly, have repeatedly provided proof that not only is there harsh criticism of judicial decisions in democratic countries, but that the criticism made there, by Abraham Lincoln in the past, Franklin Roosevelt after him, and even Barack Obama, in editorials by the New York Times and other newspapers, by the most important legal experts, has been far more scathing. It happened both in the distant past and in recent years.


Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked with Supreme Court President Miriam Naor (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked with Supreme Court President Miriam Naor (Photo: Motti Kimchi)


But none of this helped. The slogans continue. Judge (ret.) Edna Arbel contributed her two cents to the discussion when she claimed this was an "attack" on the Supreme Court. I read every word in Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's criticism. It was a topical, balanced and fair criticism. You can agree with the principle of the matter, and you can disagree. But calling it an "attack"?


Arbel went on to say that the comment according to which the Supreme Court supposedly does not have "the Purse and the Sword" was made by Judge Felix Frankfurter. It was in response to Shaked, who attributed the comment to Alexander Hamilton, one of the authors of the US Constitution. I heard this in astonishment. Frankfurter did indeed mention the matter, but he was quoting Hamilton. Shaked was right, and Arbel was wrong.


The crux of the matter is that some of those opposing criticism have turned the Supreme Court into the rabbinical court. There is a supreme truth, and any criticism is a dangerous attack against the holiest of holies. This is not how a discussion is conducted. This is how you undermine a discussion. This might serve to convince those already convinced, but it distances and frustrates everyone else. This is not how you have a democratic and topical discourse; this is how you trample it.


פרסום ראשון: 04.09.16, 13:32
 new comment
See all talkbacks "On racism and criticism in Israel"
This will delete your current comment