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March 17, 2010

Prejudice reigns in Israel

Reuel S. Amdur

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Half of Israeli Jews between 15 and 18 think that Arabs should not have equal rights, 56% believe that there should be no Arabs in the Knesset and 50% of the Jewish youngsters who defined themselves as religious said they believe the "Death to Arabs" slogan is legitimate.

That is what a poll taken of 536 teens found, as reported in the Jerusalem Post on March 11.  So what’s the surprise?

Professor Dan Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University examined 124 Israeli school text books and found anti-Arab stereotypes: “primitiveness, inferiority in comparison to Jews,” also “dirty, agitated, aggressive, and hostile to Jews.”  The students are simply repeating what they have learned.

With 15 seats in the Knesset, the Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman wants to rrevise borders to take in West Bank land with significant Jewish settlement activity and to transfer Israeli land occupied by 500,000 Palestinians.  

Lieberman is a member of the Cabinet.  Palestinian MK Ahmed Tibi said that Lieberman “won his support through race hatred.”

“The Arabs are worms,” said MK Yehiel Hazan, of the currently governing Likud Party. When the Speaker called on him to retract, he refused to do so.  The Anti-Defamation League called his remarks “derogatory, prejudicial and highly unbecoming for a member of Israel’s Knesset.”

According to Wikipedia, “In 2006, a research institute poll reported that 41% of Israelis were in favour of Arab-Israeli sesgregation, 40% believed ‘the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens,’ and 63% believed Arabs to be a ‘security and demographic threat’ to Israel. 

The data went on to report more than two thirds would not want to live in the same building as an Arab, 36% believed Arab culture to be inferior, and 18% felt hatred when they heard Arab spoken.” 

In reaction to this poll, Tibi argued that Israeli politics promotes racism.  “You can always explain it away by a security need and a self-defence mechanism,” he said.  “Racists have a long time ago moved from the street to government benches.”

Some municipalities, schools, and several organizations have undertaken efforts to discourage dating and marriage of Jewish girls to Arabs. Sometimes the discouragement becomes more aggressive, involving snitch phone lines and even vigilante actions.

In what must be the most pathetic example of prejudice and discrimination, a 2008 report by the Arab Association for Human Rights recounts the story of Arafat Wahidi, who was 16 months old at the time of these events. 

His father, Fathi Wahidi, is a single parent, working at two jobs to support the household.  He had difficulty finding child care but finally found a Jewish child care centre that would take him if he hid the fact that the family was Arab.  Arafat became Adam in the centre.  However, when it became known that Adam was really Arafat, some parents withdrew their children.  The centre then dismissed the child.  Fortunately, Wahidi found a Jewish crèche that would accept him.  “I am happy that despite everything there are still decent people with humane values who have met my son’s needs.”

The extent of anti-Arab prejudice is not a surprise. 

In Canada at the time of World War I, anti-German prejudice was rampant.  Berlin, Ontario changed its name to Kitchener, after British Lord Horatio Kitchener, a famous general.  Then there is the story of Japanese-Canadians during World War II.

To carry out a war, it is necessary to demonize the opponent.  As well, if you treat someone as inferior or if you engage in systematic discrimination, stereotypes become acceted as justificatin for the behavior. 

In the case of Israel, the country is in a state of perpetual warfare preparedness, a psychological condition similar if not equivalent to a state of war.  The opponents: Arabs and Muslims. 

Hence, the stereotypes and the prejudice.  Additionally, Palestinian property is being seized, both in the West Bank and in Jerusalem. 

Palestinian towns and villages and Palestinian schools are funded at levels well below what Jewish ones receive.  How can such treatment be justified?  The “other” simply isn’t up to our standards.  They bring it on themselves.  They should be grateful.  The fact that they are not simply intensifies the hostility.

Hostility is also engendered by the sense of danger.  And who is responsible for the danger?  They are, of course. 

Israel is on a path of growing international isolation at the same time as it faces ongoing resistance domestically to its confiscations.  Such conditions promote more of this kind of prejudice, and the prejudice leads to discrimination.  Then, the discrimination calls forth prejudice to justify it, and so on in a vicious circle. 

Little Arafat is lucky to have found a temporary haven from the madness. 

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