Israelis should be the last people on earth to indulge in open racism and bigotry when many of their forefathers were victims of discrimination, forced resettlement, pogroms and Nazi genocide.
The Jewish State was born in order to provide Jews with a safe haven and one would imagine that Israelis were predisposed to putting themselves in the shoes of minorities oppressed due to their colour or faith. Unfortunately, that is far from the case.
Last year, a report published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) for the first time condemned Israel for being an “apartheid regime” that racially discriminates against Palestinians.
Rima Khalaf, the commission’s under-secretary said the report “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state which has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people.”
Israel’s government unsurprisingly referred to the UN charge as “anti-Semitic”. Anti-Semitism is almost always Israel’s first line of defence, a shield meant to silence detractors. In reality, Israel has been guilty of racism for decades. Former prime minister Golda Meir summed this up with her negation of an entire people. “There is no such thing as the Palestinians. They never existed”, she said.
While the brutal treatment of a people living under occupation by Israeli authorities is no secret, the population at large — with few exceptions — is hostile to Israeli Arabs as well as to their Palestinian brethren.
In December, Israel’s Minister of Defence Avigdor Lieberman reacted to protests against Donald Trump’s Jerusalem announcement in Wadi Ara — an area close to Haifa populated by Arab Israelis — with a call to boycott residents’ businesses.
“These people have to understand they are not wanted here,” he said. “These people” are Israeli citizens. His words make a mockery of Israel’s incessant boast that it is the only democracy in the Middle East.
Another glaring example is a viral video on social media of an Israeli-Arab football match posted by Israel’s Minister of Culture Miri Regev. She is seen laughing surrounded by Jewish fans yelling en masse racist slogans and chanting genocidal messages such as “Burn your village” against Arabs.
She remains in a senior government position despite referring to African migrants as “a cancer in the body of the nation” in 2012. Worse, a poll revealed that 52 per cent of Israelis agreed with her sentiment.
It appears that her nation is set on excising that “cancer”. Israel has informed 38,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants, which the Israeli prime refers to as “illegal infiltrators”, to return to their homelands or a third African country before the end of March this year else face imprisonment. Some 10,000 migrants from Eritrea have applied for asylum. Only seven have been accepted.
To their credit 36 Holocaust survivors penned a letter published by Ha’aretz protesting this cruel decision. “We, who know precisely what it is like to be refugees… homeless and bereft of a state that preserves and protects us from violence and suffering, cannot comprehend how a Jewish government can expel refugees and asylum seekers to a journey of suffering, torment and death,” it reads.
Some 300 doctors and a number of airline pilots have also been vocal in their rejection of forced expulsions. A female rabbi has called on her compatriots to hide African migrants in their homes in the same way that many Jews received sanctuary in non-Jewish homes during the Nazi era. However, sheltering migrants would only be a temporary solution to their plight.
According to Newsweek, Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority is actively seeking to employ 100 migrant hunters who will receive bonuses up to 30,000 Israeli shekels ($8,700) presumably for each migrant captured. Their job description includes “locating, detaining and monitoring” illegal aliens and their employers.
However, racism is nothing new in Israel. From its inception, Jews from Arab lands (known as Mizrahim or Eastern) were looked upon as backward, thrust into poor neighbourhoods and treated as second class citizens European colonists who formed the country’s elite. Yet younger generations learned nothing from the experience of their fathers and grandfathers.
“My Mizrahi brothers and sisters, only if you denounce the disdain against Arabs within your own community will you have the moral right to protest against racism,” wrote Ha’aretz contributor Shani Gershi who is proud of his Jewish Yemenite ancestry.
Ethiopians claiming a Jewish heritage given Israeli citizenship have long complained of institutionalised racism, including rejection of their blood donations, segregation in hospitals, a lack of job opportunities and abuse at the hands of police officers.
There is little room in this Jewish state for any kind of diversity. Racism and bigotry are an accepted component of the culture. Once the oppressed, Israelis have adopted an oppressors’ mantle with relish cheered on by the Trump White House while America’s impotent allies willfully turn a blind eye.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.