It is almost unfathomable given the horrors of the 20th century that, less than a century on, there are Jewish people in the world facing segregation in public spaces, media attacks by politicians and even forced sterilisation programmes. It is harder to believe that a member state of the United Nations is responsible. Yet, that the state to which I refer is Israel boggles the mind.
There’s No Place Like Home
The 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel reads:
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Book…The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.”
Now, whether one agrees or disagrees with the right of any group to declare a nation on which one already sits, the clear intention of this declaration is that all Jewish people, across the world, would have a place to call home. The declaration goes on to state that “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles”.
However, the modern state of Israel appears to have redefined the parameters of this welcome to refer only to certain sections of the Jewish community, while others are treated in the very ways that drove the creation of Israel as a safe haven in the first place.
Forced Sterilisation of Ethiopian Women
The Ethiopian Jews are perhaps Israel’s best kept secret. The state which defines itself as a safe haven for the world’s Jews has a decidedly frosty reception for Jews which happen to be black. Whilst facing heinous anti-Semitism in the post Haile Salessie Ethiopia (2,500 were killed, 7000 made homeless) Ethiopian Jews sought sanctuary is Israel. Instead, during the 1980’s and 1990’s thousands spent years and hundreds died in transit camps outside Israel while the state procrastinated over its welcome policy for these black Jews. When Israel finally started to let some in, they were thrown into an eye watering bureaucracy of what Israel’s Haaretz newspaper describes as ‘repressive, racist and paternalistic policies’. This involves going through state run ‘absorption centres’ which manage every inch of their lives in Israel. The immigrant is tied to the state; overseen and controlled through these absorption centres which dictate where they live, where they can work, where their children can be educated, and other crucial elements of their lives. It was at these absorption centres that Ethiopian women were given contraceptive injections, without their knowledge, in state efforts to prevent the procreation of black Jews in Israel.
Suspicions were first raised five years ago by the Feminist movement in Israel, and more recently by investigative journalist Gal Gabay as part of the Vacuum documentary series. Gabay interviewed over thirty women as part of a study in a sudden dramatic birth rate decline in the Ethiopian immigrant community. It became clear that gynaecologist were using the Depo-Provera contraceptive on Ethiopian immigrant women without their consent. Women were either told they were receiving harmless inoculations, or their consent was procured through forced and coercion.
One of the Ethiopian women interviewed is quoted as saying: “They [medical staff] told us they are inoculations. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.”
When these allegations were first made, the Israeli state responded with contemptuous denials but has now been forced through overwhelming evidence to admit the disgraceful practise. Israel has for years run an immigration policy which involved the secret and compulsory sterilization of women of colour.
In questioning why a nation founded in the blood and horror of the holocaust would employ such as policy of eugenics, one must look only to the comments of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who also holds the Health Portfolio. Speaking on Ethiopian immigration last year, he claimed it would “threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state”.
It would seem Israel does not need any external agitator to threaten its democracy; it is doing a consummate job of destroying any pretence of democracy all on its own. By using unlawful sterilisation as an immigration policy.
The Segregation of School Children
Israel’s most liberal city, Tel Aviv, has recently take the decision to segregate sub Saharan African immigrants from other groups in the Kindergarten education system. The municipality has built new Kindergarten and education services to segregate the groups.
“We understand what is happening in the southern part of the city,” one unidentified municipal official tells Ynet. “And thus we had no choice but to take this step. The residents are not interested in studying with the foreigners, so this is the only option left to us.”
It is important to note that non-Jewish immigrants from Europe, North Africa, Asia and elsewhere will continue to attend ‘Jewish’ schools, whilst sub Saharan Africans, likely including Jewish Ethiopians will be pushed out into these segregated schools.
Yoav Goldring, a city councillor for the liberal City for All Party in Tel Aviv told Ynet “Instead of resolving the neighborhood’s existing problems of overcrowding and lack of infrastructure, the municipality catered to the prevailing atmosphere of racial segregation.”
Just the Tip of the Ice Berg
While the state of Israel is most associated with its human rights abuses of Palestinian and Arab Israeli population, it appears that the inherent racism in the state is now bubbling over to impact the African communities, be they Jewish or otherwise.
This climate of state sponsored racism (Israeli politicians now refer to African immigrants as ‘Infiltrators’) has filtered through into the body politic and the blood of Israeli society. ‘Price Tagging’, the local term for acts of random violence against Palestinians, has been broadened to describe a general trend toward racial assaults across Israel. Not surprisingly, there has been a stunning escalation of late in racial violence on non Jewish citizens, particularly by teenage and young Israelis.
The Tel Aviv Race Riots
Tel Aviv is one of the most liberal, multi cultural areas of Israel. Yet in May 2012, thousands of protesters were addressed by politicians from mainstream political parties in outrage at 60,000 asylum seekers arriving in Israel in recent years.
Miri Regev, a member of the ruling Likud party told the crowds that asylum seekers are a “cancer in our body,” and promised to do everything “in order to bring them back to where they belong”.
Danny Danon, who heads a lobby group which seeks to deal with the issue of illegal immigration, said the only solution to the problem would be to “begin talking about expulsion”.
“We must expel the infiltrators from Israel. We should not be afraid to say the words ‘expulsion now’,” he was reported as saying.
Eli Yishai, the country’s interior minister used an interview ahead of the race protest to utter the following almost unbelievable comments:
“Southern Tel Aviv has become the country’s garbage can. I’d suggest to all those bleeding hearts who speak out against me to take a few dozen infiltrators and house them in their neighbourhoods. Let them see them every day; let their children try to play in the playgrounds they’re in. Yesterday, a woman called me. Two Sudanese men chased her in the alleyways of Jerusalem. It could have ended in rape. Did you know that there are a lot of women in Tel Aviv who have been raped but are afraid to complain so that they don’t get stigmatised as Aids carriers?”
This racist crowd, sufficiently whipped up by the politicians then proceeded to go on a rampage of racially motivated violence. Dozens of African immigrants were injured. Witnesses reported seeing men and women being beaten in the streets, whilst properties and shops were also attacked. This riot is hauntingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht, where Jews were attacked in the streets, and their businesses were destroyed in an orgy of hate-fuelled violence sanctioned by the state. It was fascist then and it is fascist now.
Racially Motivated Assaults
There has been a spate of racially motivated attacks on Palestinians and African immigrants to Israel in recent months.
A group of young Jewish women attacked Palestinian woman Hana Amtir at a light rail station (pictured above), pulling off her hijab and punching her in the face. It was sheer luck that artist Dorit Jordan Dotan happened to be nearby to bear witness and photograph the assault as it happened. She told police officers she and a male friend were waiting for a train at the Kiryat Moshe station when, without provocation, a young Jewish woman began attacking an Arab woman who was also at the station. The perpetrator, said Jordan Dotan, was soon joined by other young women. She said several passengers and bystanders – including a security officer working for the city – looked on apathetically and did not intervene.
This is not an isolated incident.
During the religious festival of Purim, on February 24th a group of some 20 Jewish Israeli teens between 15 and 17 mobbed and beat Palestinian cleaner Hassan Ausruf in Tel Aviv whilst shouting racist slogans at him. Describing the vicious assault Ausruf said:
“Suddenly a large group came over; they yelled at me ‘You’re an Arab. You want a state? Is that what you want?'” the Israeli news site Ynet quoted him as saying.
These are two stories among many across Israel in recent months of vicious assaults perpetrated on non Jewish citizens whilst passers by simply look the other way.
As disturbing as these other attacks were, there was a special kind of horror reserved for the attempted lynching of several Palestinian teenagers in Zion Square in Jerusalem. Dozens of Jewish teenagers launched an unprovoked attack on three Palestinian teens last August. Eye witnesses reported seeing one of the Palestinian teens repeatedly kicked by the mob even once he was crumpled on the ground, whilst their peers chanted racist slogans. Meanwhile dozens of Israelis in the square looked on without lifting a finger. Haaretz places the blame for this rise in teenage mob violence against Palestinians and Africans squarely on the state racism.
“The suspected perpetrators are children and teens. They absorbed their hatred of Arabs from their environment: perhaps at home, certainly from the educational and political systems. When incitement against Arabs has become politically correct, when rabbis urge the public to treat Arabs in a racist manner and aren’t fired from their posts, when the Knesset passes legislation over which a nationalist and racist flag waves, when the education minister extols Jewish supremacy over the Palestinians in Hebron, it’s impossible to complain solely about those teens, who translated all this into the language of violence.
The brother of one of the suspects tried to justify this lawlessness by saying the victims had “started up with Jewish girls” – and it’s clear he had heard such “accusations” more than once from Knesset members and rabbis. These, and others before them over the years, also bear responsibility.”
The Genie is Out of the Bottle
Several generations of Israeli children have now gone through an education system which teaches paranoia, fear and supremacy – and Israeli society is fragmenting along racial lines. For many, the Israel of today is not safe harbour, but shark infested waters. A place where the new Untermenschen – black or brown people, regardless of religion – face harassment in the street, the playground, the media and parliament.
Isreal is proof, if it were needed, that bigotry and persecution are not the preserve of any religion, nation or political ideology. The roots of persecution lay not in poverty or some proscribed set of circumstances either, though such circumstances can fan the flames. The problem is the idea that I am better than you. That we are not equal. That there is some ‘other’ which is not part of us or deserving of our empathy. This is the nub of the issue. This is the foundation rock of persecution upon which some choose to build elaborate political, religious or national ideas. We can waste our energy knocking down endless lines of these structures, declaring them evil and so on. But we will be engaged in this task permanently, so long as the foundation rock remains untouched.
We start with ourselves. Who can we not relate to? Who do we refuse to consider ‘one of us’?
If a person strives for equal rights for one group but not all, then such a person is not an activist for equality, but merely an agitator for an interest group. We cannot call for equality for of all races, but not of all religions, sexualities, genders, physical or learning abilities. Equality is an all or nothing game. We have equality for all, or we do not have equality. Israel is a perfect cautionary tale that we cannot build justice on the back of injustice, or safety and security on the back of persecution.
Don’t Get Angry, Get Involved!
Equality and Human Rights Commission – check out this organisation committed to equality for all.
B’Tselem – Israeli information centre for human rights in the Occupied Territories. These are people who refused to be taught to hate and fear, and are making a stand for justice and equality.
Hope Flowers School – read about the school in Bethlehem that aims to bring together Israeli and Palestinian children to help build a future generation of adults who see the humanity in each other.
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