Sunday, April 11, 2010

From hatred of Christians to Muslims to Arabs, the deep racism of the Israeli psyche is on the rise

Israel, a New Decade
( -- by Ran HaCohen --

I turn on the television just before dinner. Prime-time. An Israeli series: "The Pilots’ Wives" ("Meet the Women behind Our Heroes", said the promo), interrupted occasionally by a commercial depicting a soldier missing his mother’s soup ("disclaimer: the actor is not a soldier"). After the series, a short public service broadcast showing a group of young men, each in turn boasting his military service, until they notice one of them – a violent zoom-in – keeps quiet; the message is clear. Then the news, with at least one public relations item pushed by the military: "teen-age girls eager to become fighters", "a remote-control watch-and-shoot system on the Gaza fence", "a unique glimpse into a top-secret air-force base" or the like. Not to mention the real news, be it about the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Iran, or even the billions of terrorists disguised as miserable African refugees allegedly waiting on the Egyptian border to inundate Israel: all these issues, and many more, are predominantly managed and framed by the military.

The military service has been made a major issue in Israeli public discourse. Not that the army is short of soldiers: on the contrary, the number of recruits requesting "to serve their country" in combat units is at record level. Nevertheless, uniting the nation around the military as the ultimate good is a goal in itself, especially when it implicitly excludes the Israeli-Palestinians, who are not conscripted. Thus the stage and screen actor Itay Tiran was removed from Israel’s official propaganda website when someone noticed he had not served; And, following the Zeitgeist, "national left-wing" playwright Shmuel Hasfari said he would refuse to work with Tiran "just like with any murderer or rapist."

Most Israeli artists are careful not to express themselves critically about Israel’s policies, definitely not to say a word against the country’s deep militarism and racism; Scander Kobti, co-director of Ajami, nominated for an Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film, caused a scandal just for saying he didn’t "represent Israel" in Hollywood ("I cannot represent a state that doesn’t represent me", the Israeli-Palestinian claimed) – even that is more than the selectively sensitive Israeli ear can bear. Every Israeli is expected to be an ambassador abroad – no wonder that in a highly popular Israeli reality show just a few years ago, candidates competed on who would best represent Israeli propaganda abroad (a former Israeli army spokesman was among the judges). Remember it next time you talk to an Israeli: especially outside Israel, you might hear not the truth, but the official state propaganda. Though many Israelis sincerely believe the two are identical.

The deep racism of the Israeli psyche is on the rise. The 1990s, at least in hindsight, marked some liberalization of the public discourse; the first decade of this century crushed it, and now the mildly critical, left-liberal discourse hardly exists in the mainstream. No wonder the liberal left has just 3 seats out of 120 in the Knesset; all the other parties are various shades of right-wing, far right, or fascism (except the small outcast "Arab" parties). The racist mindset can be observed in the most trivial daily situations, like my elderly neighbor, when told I saw someone peeping at my window the other night, instinctively reacting with a single question: "Have you seen whether it was a Jew or an Arab?"

Ever more often, when I mention the Netherlands, I am told that all the Dutch were anti-Semitic and collaborated with the Nazis; my already ritualized reaction – that my grandparents and my mother owe their lives to Dutch Christians who risked their own lives to save them – is met with a shrug, expressing something like "don’t challenge my precious prejudice" or "don’t be so naïve, we all know everybody hates us." And this is not just the case of Holland: from Sweden to Ethiopia, from Turkey to Argentina, no matter how Jewish-friendly (and Israel-friendly) a nation has been historically, Israelis are encouraged to view all non-Jews ("Goyim" is the pejorative term used uncritically by most Hebrew speakers) as inherently anti-Semitic and therefore anti-Israeli. Every criticism of Israel’s policy is automatically dismissed as yet another incarnation of an endemic, incurable hatred of Jews...MORE...LINK

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