Now that the new Israeli government will be sworn into the Knesset this week, an issue that has festered unchecked for too long needs to be addressed more extensively – racist and gender-inspired incitement against Arab citizens of Israel. Though President Reuven Rivlin began his presidency by shining a light on this scourge in Israeli society and initiated a nationwide conversation and campaign to emphasize that anti-Arab racism has no place in the democratic state of Israel, bigotry continues against Arabs, and in a different way against Ethiopian Jews. The large presence of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers has, at the very least, exacerbated the problem.
The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) have published a report called “Racism and Gender in Israel.” It includes introductory remarks by Rabbi David Saperstein, formerly the Director of the RAC in Washington, D.C. and now a Presidential appointee as United States Ambassador for Religious Freedom, and by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the IRAC, wrote the Preface (see below to obtain a copy).
This 66-page pamphlet was written by Israeli attorney Ruth Carmi who notes that though the assassinated MK Meir Kahana was condemned for his racist and extremist remarks in the 1980s when he charged that Arab men were threatening to steal “our” wives and daughters, such comments today by the most extreme Hareidi rabbis are “no longer confined to the margins but are becoming increasingly common in Israeli discourse, and have even found their way into official debates in the Knesset…. [these comments pray upon] emotions exploited with the goal of imposing complete segregation between Jews and Arabs in Israel, isolating and humiliating the Arab community in Israel, and depicting it as a dangerous enemy against which defense is essential… The goal is to marginalize Arab citizens in Israel, to prevent coexistence between Jews and Arabs, and to impose a misogynist perception of women as passive pawns in the conflict who lack any will of their own.”
Racial incitement is prohibited under Israeli law as a criminal and a disciplinary offense.
The “Gender and Racism” pamphlet describes how extremist orthodox religious organizations, associations and some ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have devoted themselves to a campaign to “defend the honor of Jewish women.” The primary offending organizations are Yad L’Achim, Lev L’Achim, Lehava, Hemla, Derekh Chaim, and the website Hakol Hayehudi, and the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is most identified with this racist campaign to mark Arabs as schemers, seducers and abusers.
Carmi notes that “throughout history national humiliation has been closely associated with the sexual humiliation of women…and that a Jewish woman who submits to wooing by a non-Jewish man brings dishonor on herself and shame on the entire nation.” (p. 52)
“The woman’s body is the nation, and accordingly the war over this body is the war of the entire nation and becomes the focus of the conflict. Jewish women who have relationships with the enemy – Arab men – are perceived as contributing to the defeat of the Jewish people and the State of Israel and as humiliating Jewish men. The bodies of Jewish women become the focus of the Arab-Jewish conflict and ownership over these bodies determines the balance of power in the conflict.” (pp. 53-54)
This growing movement in Israel is promoted by flyers in Safed warning about “Arab Seducers,” posters in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Beitar Illit opposing employment of Arabs, flyers in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood of Jerusalem calling for the expulsion of Arab residents, and letters given to IDF soldiers declaring “The War is at Home.” Statements by ultra-Orthodox rabbis warn against encounters and fraternization between Jewish women and Arab men and against Arab students and letters by some Rabbis’ wives are posted and distributed beseeching Jewish women not to date Arab men. In Ashkelon, there are efforts to exclude Arabs citizens from local places of entertainment, and kashrut certification is granted to businesses that follow this racist agenda. On the Lehava website there is a “Page of Shame” that lists names of Jewish women involved in intimate relationships with non-Jewish men. An Informers’ Hotline enables people to report incidents of Arab-Jewish fraternization.
Violent attacks against innocent Arabs whose sole “offense” was to be present in areas where there is a Jewish majority, have all created “an atmosphere of terror and intimidation that serves the agenda of those organizations and individuals that advocate for the total segregation of the two populations in the State of Israel.” (p. 13)
It remains to be seen whether this new government including two ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, will prosecute this moral scourge in segments of Israeli society.
The Talmud is clear when it says “One who is able to protest against a wrong that is done in his family, his city, his nation, or the world and doesn’t do so is held accountable for that wrong being done.” (Bavli, Shabbat 54b).
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel echoes that reminder when he said, “We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible.”
Note: Contact the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center for a free copy of “Racism and Gender in Israel” – 2027 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036 – Phone: (202) 387-2800 – http://www.rac.org/.