Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The World's Most anti-Semetic Place

“He’s a dirty Jew!”; “Death to the Jews!” the group called toward the young Jewish man, walking with his friend outside the pub. A short exchange of words led to an attack, and then there was no going back.  Minutes later the Jewish man was stabbed with a switchblade, eventually dying from his wounds that night.

Just few days later, a car belonging to a Jewish medical student was torched. “Death to the Jews” and “Jews Out” graffiti slogans were spray painted on the walls of his faculty building, where many other Jewish students attend school.

These are not fictional events, but few samples of real accounts of anti-Semitic incidents that took place just weeks ago, in what is arguably the most anti-Semitic place on earth.

You might think about Russia or Hungary, or even France or Germany as the place where the described incidents took place, but you’ll be wrong. These things happened, and happen almost daily in Israel, the Jewish State. Are you shocked yet?

One small correction is due. The attacks were not directed at Jews, but against Arabs. It was a Jewish group who stabbed an Arab man once they heard him speaking Arabic, and it was a car belonging to an Arab med student that got torched by Jews, who also felt free to spray ‘Death to Arabs’ and other racist slogans on the faculty building at a local college where Arabs go to school.

You might think these are anecdotal, non-related stories and as much as they’re horrible, they do not reflect a trend in Israel. The reality is different. The physical and verbal violence against Arabs in Israel is just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger phenomenon.

Weeks before the car torching in Safed, the ‘City of Kabbala’ in northern Israel, there were disturbing displays of racism by Jews. Eli Tzvieli – an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor and a Safed resident – was threatened because he dared renting his basement unit to two Arab students. This was not the only incident. Shortly after the Tzvieli case, the city rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, was openly calling for racial separation between Arabs and Jews and against renting or selling properties to Arabs in Safed. More than 50 city rabbis – all state employed – where signing a letter supporting Eliyahu and publically calling for racial separation between Jews and Arabs.

In Bat-Yam, a coastal city just south of Tel Aviv, hundreds of Jews went out to the streets calling to “Keep Bat-Yam Jewish” and to protect Jewish girls from “Arabs who are taking our daughters”.

These public displays of anti-Semitism reflect a political discourse in Israel in which Arab citizens are openly referred to as a ‘demographic threat'. Prominent Israeli politicians have actually laid detailed plans to ‘rid’ the country of Arab-Israeli citizens as a response to this ‘threat’. The Israeli public did not reject this plan, but made Avigdor Liberman – the man behind the proposal - and his party the third largest in the Israeli Parliament.

How would we, American Jews, feel if there were rallies in American cities calling to ‘Keep our cities clear of Jews’ or against selling property to ‘Dirty Jews’? Would we keep silent – as we largely do in the case of Israeli anti-Semitism – or go out fighting this phenomenon?

The answer is clear. As a Jewish community we make sure that even slightest, most vague displays of anti-Semitism are condemned and treated with immediately. The Anti-Defamation League is a powerful organization created just for that. We know how to lecture everyone about anti-Semitism. That is, everyone but Israel.

The fact that Jewish displays of anti-Semitism in Israel are getting ignored is a very bad sign for our Jewish communities in the U.S. It reflects poorly on our Jewish values and what we stand for as a community. Where is our collective memory as victims of racism and our calls to ‘Remember’?  It seems that when it comes to Israel we excel in forgetting and ignoring.

As Jewish Americans who truly care about Israel, we should speak up and demand of it the same as we demand from others. If, as Jews, we hold dear Jewish (and universal) values like tolerance and inclusiveness, we need to speak up even louder.

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