"The word 'camera,' came from the Latin word for 'room'. Each person lives in camera, in an isolated room, full of secrets."Starring: Emily Watson, Dermot Mulroney, Gretchen Mol
Friday, September 19, 2014
This is the most controversial article the gentile me has ever written or is ever likely to write, but I believe that what I am going to say needs to be said and should be widely debated if the rising, global tide of “anti-Israelism” (I prefer the term anti-Zionism) is not to be transformed into anti-Semitism on a scale that could lead, in a foreseeable future, to Holocaust II, my shorthand for another great turning against the Jews.
I am, of course, aware that anti-Semitism is more than prejudice against and loathing even hatred of Jews just because they are Jews. Arabs are Semites, too. So anti-Semitism is prejudice against Arabs as well as Jews. In other words, Islamophobia, a monster on the prowl across America and Europe and licking its lips, is also a manifestation of anti-Semitism. That said my use of the term anti-Semitism in this article relates only to prejudice against and loathing even hatred of Jews just because they are Jews.
A clear, early warning that anti-Israelism could be transformed into anti-Semitism was given by Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former Director of Israeli Military Intelligence, in his book ISRAEL’S FATEFUL HOUR, first published in Hebrew in 1986 and in English two years later.
(He started out as a rabid right-winger and a supporter of Menachem Begin, arguably the most successful terrorist leader of modern times. But he, Harkabi, subsequently broke with Begin and launched a blistering attack on the ideological mindset of the proponents of Greater Israel and the expansionist policies of the Begin and Shamir governments. Instead of the policy of not yielding an inch and waiting for the Palestinians to surrender, he advocated negotiations with the PLO to establish an independent Palestinian state. “Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories with their growing Arab population” is the first sentence on the back cover of his book).
The following is the text of Harkabi’s warning:
Israel is the criterion according to which all Jews will tend to be judged. Israel as a Jewish state is an example of the Jewish character, which finds free and concentrated expression within it. Anti-Semitism has deep and historical roots. Nevertheless, any flaw in Israeli conduct, which initially is cited as anti-Israelism, is likely to be transformed into empirical proof of the validity of anti-Semitism. It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world.
In my opinion the flaw in Harkabi’s argument is that Israel is a Zionist not a Jewish state (how could it be a Jewish state when about a quarter of its citizens are Palestinian Arabs and mainly Muslims?); and that raises the question of how much, actually, Israel is an example of the Jewish character. But that doesn’t detract from his main warning point that Israel’s behaviour could be a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism.
More than a quarter of a century on from Harkabi’s warning, the impression conveyed by mainstream Western media reporting and comment while the IDF was (and still is) delivering death and destruction to the Gaza Strip was not that a transformation of anti-Israelism/anti-Zionism into historical anti-Semitism might be underway, but that the anti-Israel protests and demonstrations across the world, in Europe especially, were manifestations of naked anti-Semitism. In other words, what used to be called the “sleeping giant of anti-Semitism” is awake again.
The most dramatic headline that came to my notice was over an article in The Guardian by Jon Henley on 7 August. It read: Antisemitism on rise across Europe “in worst times since the Nazis”. And underneath that there was a secondary headline, Experts say attacks go beyond Israel-Palestine conflict as hate crimes strike fear into Jewish communities.
One of the “experts” Henley quoted was Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews. He said: “These are the worst times since the Nazi era. On the streets you here things like ‘Jews should be gassed, Jews should be burned’. We haven’t had that in Germany for decades. Anyone saying those slogans isn’t criticising Israeli policies, it’s just pure hatred against Jews; nothing else. And it’s not just a German phenomenon. It’s an outbreak of hatred against Jews so intense that it’s very clear.”
Some demonstrators and protestors were using Israel’s latest war on the Gaza Strip as a cover for expressing their inherent anti-Semitism, but most were not. Most were criticising and condemning Israel’s actions, not expressing hatred of Jews just because they are Jews.
I agree with Christopher Dickey who made this comment. “Can you criticise Israel’s military actions and a lot of its policies without being anti-Semitic? Yes. Can you do it without having some people accuse you of anti-Semitism? No, you can’t.”
In passing I want to add that in my opinion the global reaction against Israel was driven not only by visual evidence of the death and destruction the IDF delivered to the Gaza Strip but also the absurd statements of justification made by all who speak for Israel right or wrong from Netanyahu down. (“Hamas is engaging in child sacrifice” etcetera, etcetera).
Their statements were in my view an insult to the intelligence of all sane people who could see for themselves what was happening as Israel unleashed its fire power. Avi Shlaim put it this way. “The terms in which Netanyahu and his right-wing colleagues frame the conflict with Hamas is a mixture of half-truths, outright lies, deliberate deception and mind-boggling double-standards.”
The key to understanding is, I submit, in the following paragraph.
Yes, it’s true that the giant of real anti-Semitism has been present throughout history, sometimes sleeping, sometimes awake and on the rampage. But after the Nazi holocaust, and because of it, the giant not only went back to sleep, IT ALMOST CERTAINLY WOULD HAVE DIED IN ITS SLEEP IF THERE HAD BEEN NO ZIONISM.
That last statement is, of course, speculation on my part but I believe it is fully supported by the completeness of the assimilation of the Jewish citizens of the Western nations as the second half of the 20th century unfolded. Also to be noted is that in the last decade or so about one million Israeli Jews said goodbye to the Zionist state to start new lives in the Western nations; and in the months before the European protests and demonstrations against Israel’s latest war on the Gaza Strip, more of those who took their leave of Israel resettled themselves in Germany rather than America.
To the extent that the transformation of anti-Israelism/anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism is underway today, the factor, not “a” factor as in Harkabi’s warning, is Israel’s “misconduct”, which I define criminal behaviour justified by sickening self-righteousness.
According to Harkabi self-righteousness is Israel’s biggest enemy:
There should be discussion of the dangers that religious extremism pose to the state, to the status of the Jewish people in the world and to Judaism. The dangers of Messianism must be presented candidly, with full exposure of the catastrophes produced by false messiahs in the past.
All these lessons can be summed up as the pressing need for self-criticism. Certainly Israel is not guilty of everything that has gone wrong in the occupied lands. But self-criticism is imperative in order to counter balance the tendencies to self-righteousness and self-pity that stem from basic Jewish attitudes, from the historical experience of persecution and from the ethos fostered by Menachem Begin. No factor endangers Israel’s future more than self-righteousness, which blinds us to reality, prevents a complex understanding of the situation and legitimizes extreme behaviour.
If Harkabi was alive today (he died in 1994) I would suggest to him that in 2014 there is no chance of Israel opening itself to self-criticism because the vast majority of its Jews have been brainwashed by Zionist propaganda to the point where they are beyond reason on the matter of justice for the Palestinians.
If the notion that there is a real danger of another great turning against the Jews provoked by Zionism in action was only my gentile view, I probably would not have written this article. But I have a number of very dear Jewish friends who fear that it could happen. One of them is Nazi holocaust survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer, the author of An Ethical Tradition Betrayed: The End of Judaism.
And then there is Tony Learman. I don’t know him but I respect him enormously. (He is a British Jewish writer who specialises in the study of anti-Semitism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, multiculturalism and the place of religion in society. From 2006 to early 2009 he was Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a think tank on issues affecting Jewish communities in Europe).
He recently wrote this:
If Israel continues its attitude of defiance of international legal norms and of the wishes of the international community as regards settlements, then this is almost inviting a real resurgence of a form of historical anti-Semitism.
In conversation with Tony I would say something like the following. Israel’s leaders are not “almost inviting” a real resurgence of anti-Semitism. They are actually inviting it. They need it to justify their crimes in general and, in particular, their determination to keep for ever most if not all of the occupied West Bank, even if that requires a final ethnic cleansing of it.
Another British Jewish writer who captured my attention was Blake Ezra. The following was the opening paragraph of an article on his web site which was carried by The Times of Israel. on 9 August.
“Dear world, I’m writing to you from a place of despair and confusion. When I say ‘world’, I don’t simply mean the planet upon which we all live but I address personally whoever is reading this. As a Jewish person, I have a question for you. It’s a genuine question to which I can’t find a suitable answer through my own thoughts… What do you want from us?”
He went on to say that as a Jew he, like many of his co-religionists, didn’t feel safe in his own city (London). And he insisted that “the hatred being indiscriminately hurled in our direction today” was not a response to Israel’s military action.
Other gems from his article included the following:
“The Jewish people have never insisted that whichever country they inhabit becomes kosher, Jewish people have never insisted that their fellow non-Jewish citizens keep the laws of the Jewish Sabbath, Jewish people have never insisted that their Synagogues dominate the skyline of towns across the diaspora. We mean no harm, we come in peace, please stop threatening to kill us… Sometimes, world, I wonder if your plan is to make Jewish people feel so uncomfortable in the countries they inhabit that they all move to Israel, all the Jews in one place would certainly make it easier for a fanatical group to wipe us all out in one fell swoop. Are you really working towards this mass International ghettoization?… World, I’m still desperately trying to decipher what we could have done differently, in order to avoid this deep-seated hatred that is seemingly coming to the fore this year… Can we EVER do enough to be accepted by you? World, I ask you in the hope that one day I’ll understand… What do you want from us?”
The answer to that question ought to be obvious to all but those who are suffering from paranoia and can be simply stated.
What the world wants from Israel’s Jews and Jews everywhere is an acknowledgement that a terrible wrong was done to the Palestinians by Zionism in the name of all Jews and that the wrong must be righted.
Without such an acknowledgement I can see no hope for peace based on an acceptable amount of justice for the Palestinians and security for all and, if Israel remains on its present course, not much hope for preventing the transformation of anti-Israelism/anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism on a scale that could lead, in a foreseeable future, to another great turning against the Jews.
In my analysis the key to preventing Holocaust II at some point in a foreseeable future is in the hands of the Jews of the world themselves, European and American Jews in particular. What I mean is that it’s in their own best interests to distance themselves from the Zionist state in order in order to rob accusations of their complicity in its crimes of any credible substance. In addition to acknowledging the wrong done to the Palestinians and the need for that wrong to be righted, they could say, publicly, that they cannot and will not support an Israel that demonstrates contempt for international law and Jewish moral values.
It is true that a growing but still smallish number of European and American Jews are speaking out, not only in support of some justice for the Palestinians but also to condemn Israel’s policies and actions. Those who speaking out have taken Harkabi’s advice. Here is what he wrote on the need for open and honest debate.
What we need in Israel is not a united front behind a wrong policy, but searching self-criticism and a careful examination of our goals and means, so that we can differentiate between realistic vision and adventurist fantasy.
Jews in the West, particularly in the United States, should participate in this debate. They should not be squeamish and discouraged by the fear that the arguments they air may help their enemies and those of Israel. The choice facing them, as well as Israel, is not between good and bad but between bad and worse. Criticising Israeli policies may be harmfully divisive, but refraining from criticism and allowing Israel to maintain its wrong policy is incomparably worse. If the state of Israel comes to grief (God forbid), it will not be because of a lack of weaponry or money, but because of skewed political thinking and because the Jews who understood the situation did not exert themselves to convince the Israelis to change that thinking.
What is at stake is the survival of Israel and the status of Judaism. Israel will soon face its moment of truth. The crisis that faces the nation will be all-consuming. It will be bitter because many will have to acknowledge that they have lived in a world of fantasy; they will have to shed conceptions and beliefs they have held dear.
One implication of that part of Harkabi’s analysis is that if the Jews of the Western world who understand the situation exerted themselves, they could convince Israelis to change their thinking. In theory that might be so but in reality it can’t happen as things are
for the simple reason that the majority of the Jews of the Western world do not understand the situation; and that in turn is because they have been conditioned to believe a version of history, Zionism’s version, which is simply not true.
The majority don’t know, for example, that Israel’s existence has never, ever, been in danger from any combination of Arab force. And they don’t know, another example, that it’s not Israel that has lacked a Palestinian partner for peace but the Palestinians who for the past 34 years have lacked an Israeli partner. (As I have previously written, there’s a case for saying they might have had one in Prime Minister Rabin, but he was assassinated by a Zionist fanatic who knew exactly what he was doing – killing the peace process Arafat made possible, in 1979, by persuading the highest decision making bodies on the Palestinian side that they had to be ready for unthinkable compromise and peace with an Israel confined to its borders as they were on 4 June 1967).
And there’s an awesome complicating factor. It’s not only that most Jews of the Western world don’t know the truth of history as it relates to the conflict in and over Palestine that became Israel, MANY DON’T WANT TO KNOW IT. In my book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews I illustrate this point by telling of a conversation I had with a Jewish gentleman who after my dear wife is my second best friend in the world and has been for more than 40 years.
Shortly before the publication of the first volume of the UK edition of my book way back in 2005 I said the following to him. “Like many if not most Jews you believe that when Israel went to war in 1967 it was either because the Arabs attacked or were about to attack. If I can prove to you, using only Israeli sources, that what you believe is Zionist propaganda nonsense and that the Arabs had no intention of striking first, and that it was actually a war of Israeli aggression, what…?”
My friend was silent for about a minute. Then, in a voice not much above a whisper, he said, “If what I believe about that war is not true, everything crumbles.”
Since then we have remained best friends but we do not ever discuss Israel.
I thought long and hard about the meaning of “everything crumbles” and I came to the conclusion, endorsed in private by other Jewish friends, that what it means can be summarised as follows. Many and perhaps even most Jews need to believe they always were, are and always will be VICTIMS.
And that, I believe, assists real and true understanding of why most Jews of the world are silent on the matter of Israel’s crimes. Deep down, if only in their sub-consciousness, they fear that Holocaust II is probably inevitable at some point in the future and that they will need Israel as their refuge of last resort. So, they tell themselves, say nothing and do nothing that could assist Israel’s enemies. (It’s also the case that criticism of Israel can and does tear Jewish families apart).
What I believe to be the most tragic irony in all of human history to date is that most Jews of the world can’t see that if the rising, global tide of anti-Israelism/anti-Zionism is transformed into anti-Semitism on a scale that could lead to Holocaust II, it will be because of Zionism in action.
In that light my gentile appeal to the Jews of the world, American and European Jews in particular, is this. The key to preventing Holocaust II is in your hands. Use it to unlock your minds that have been closed by Zionist propaganda. (I mean its lies and deceptions).
Because I have faith in the potential goodness of human nature, a potential that has to be liberated by the truth of history, I want to end this article by pointing to an alternative scenario to the one indicated by my headline.
As I wrote in my book and say on public platforms, I truly believe that, generally speaking, the Jews are the intellectual elite of the Western world and the Palestinians are by far the intellectual elite of the Arab world. Together in peace and partnership in One State for all (yes, that does mean the end of Zionism), they could change the region for the better and by doing so give new hope and inspiration to the whole world.
To put it another way, in peace and a partnership of equals, the Jews minus Zionism could become, with the Palestinians, a light unto nations. Surely that’s a better option than allowing Zionism to put the light out?
R.I.P. DEAR HAJO
I sent a draft of this article to Hajo Meyer for his comments and suggestions. His wife Chris called me to say that a week after celebrating his 90th birthday, Hajo had passed away peacefully. He will rest in peace because he was at peace with himself in his life. I know that because of his answer to a question I asked him over a meal in London some years ago.
I said: “You’re well into your eighties and despite the fact that you lived through the hell of Auschwitz, you are vilified by supporters of Israel right or wrong for your anti-Zionist stance and campaigning. You don’t need this hassle in what remains of your life. Why do you carry on campaigning?”
He replied, “The first person I see when I wake up in the morning is me.”
He meant that he needed above all to be able to live with himself. (As I write I find myself wondering how many of our so-called leaders, President Obama in particular, can do that).
In one of our last conversations Hajo said that he no longer had any hesitation about describing Israel’s leaders as “the new Nazis.”
Thursday, September 18, 2014
1. Things you can say about your business, but not your girlfriend
2. Phrases you can use to describe a truck, but not your girlfriend
3. Things you can say to your dog, but not your girlfriend
4. Things you can say about your boat, but not your girlfriend
5. Things you can say about the food you eat, but not your girlfriend
6. Ways you can describe your motorcycle, but not your girlfriend
7. Things you might say about your computer, but not your girlfriend
Victims of Israeli's Assault On Gaza
The horrific pictures of the beheading of American reporter James Foley, the images of executions of alleged collaborators in Gaza and the bullet-ridden bodies left behind in Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are the end of a story, not the beginning. They are the result of years, at times decades, of the random violence, brutal repression and collective humiliation the United States has inflicted on others.
Our terror is delivered to the wretched of the earth with industrial weapons. It is, to us, invisible. We do not stand over the decapitated and eviscerated bodies left behind on city and village streets by our missiles, drones and fighter jets. We do not listen to the wails and shrieks of parents embracing the shattered bodies of their children. We do not see the survivors of air attacks bury their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. We are not conscious of the long night of collective humiliation, repression and powerlessness that characterizes existence in Israel’s occupied territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not see the boiling anger that war and injustice turn into a caldron of hate over time. We are not aware of the very natural lust for revenge against those who carry out or symbolize this oppression. We see only the final pyrotechnics of terror, the shocking moment when the rage erupts into an inchoate fury and the murder of innocents. And, willfully ignorant, we do not understand our own complicity. We self-righteously condemn the killers as subhuman savages who deserve more of the violence that created them. This is a recipe for endless terror.
Chaim Engel, who took part in the uprising at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp in Poland, described what happened when he obtained a knife and confronted a German in an office. The act he carried out was no less brutal than the beheading of Foley or the executions in Gaza. Isolated from the reality he and the other inmates endured at the camp, his act was savage. Set against the backdrop of the extermination camp it was understandable.
Any good cop, like any good reporter, knows that every criminal has a story. No one, except for perhaps a few psychopaths, wakes up wanting to cut off another person’s head. Murder and other violent crimes almost always grow out of years of abuse of some kind suffered by the perpetrator. Even the most “civilized” among us are not immune to dehumanization.
The enemies on the modern battlefield seem elusive because death is usually delivered by industrial weapons such as aerial drones or fighter jets that are impersonal, or by insurgent forces that leave behind roadside bombs or booby traps or carry out hit-and-run ambushes. This elusiveness is the curse of modern warfare. The inability of Sunni fighters in Iraq to strike back at jets and drones has resulted in their striking a captured journalist and Shiite and Kurdish civilians.
U.S. soldiers and Marines in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israeli soldiers in assaults on Gaza, have been among those who committed senseless acts of murder. They routinely have gunned down unarmed civilians to revenge killings of members of their units. This is a reaction I saw in several wars. It is not rational. Those murdered were not responsible, even indirectly, for the deaths of their killers’ comrades, just as Foley and the Shiites and Kurds executed in Iraq were not responsible for the deaths of Sunni militants hit by the U.S. Air Force.
J. Glenn Gray, who fought in World War II, wrote about the peculiar nature of vengeance in “The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle”:
When the soldier has lost a comrade to this enemy or possibly had his family destroyed by them through bombings or through political atrocities, so frequently the case in World War II, his anger and resentment deepen into hatred. Then the war for him takes on the character of a vendetta. Until he has himself destroyed as many of the enemy as possible, his lust for vengeance can hardly be appeased. I have known soldiers who were avid to exterminate every last one of the enemy, so fierce was their hatred. Such soldiers took great delight in hearing or reading of mass destruction through bombings. Anyone who has known or been a soldier of this kind is aware of how hatred penetrates every fiber of his being. His reason for living is to seek revenge; not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but a tenfold retaliation.
Those killed are not, to the killers, human beings but representations of what they fear and hate. The veneer of the victim’s humanity, they believe, is only a mask for an evil force. The drive for vengeance, for “tenfold retaliation,” among those who are deformed by violence cannot be satiated without rivers of blood—even innocent blood. And Americans do as much of this type of revenge killing as those we fight. Our instruments of war allow us to kill from a distance. We therefore often lack any real consciousness of killing. But this does not make us any less depraved.
Christopher Browning in his book “Ordinary Men” tells of a German reserve police battalion that was recruited to carry out mass executions of Jews in World War II.
Browning’s book echoed the findings of the psychologistStanley Milgram, who concluded that “men are led to kill with little difficulty.” Browning, like Milgram, illustrates how easily we become killers. This is a painful truth. It is difficult to accept. It forces us to look into the eyes of Foley’s executioners and see not monsters but ourselves.
“Few of us ever know how far fear and violence can transform us into creatures at bay, ready with tooth and claw,” Gray wrote. “If the war taught me anything at all, it convinced me that people are not what they seem or even think themselves to be.”
I am teaching inmates at a supermax prison this summer. We are reading William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Every student in my classroom was charged with murder, and, though the American judicial system imprisons its share of innocents, it is a safe bet that many if not most in my class have killed. At the same time, once you hear the stories of their lives, the terrifying domestic abuse, the crushing poverty, the cruelty of the streets, including police use of deadly force against unarmed people, the societal and parental abandonment, the frustration at not being able to live a life of dignity or find a job, the humiliation of being poorly educated—some went into prison illiterate—you begin to understand the power of the institutional racism and oppression that made them angry and finally dangerous.
Marguerite Duras in her book “The War” describes how she and other members of the French Resistance kidnapped and tortured a 50-year-old Frenchman they suspected of collaborating with the Germans. The group allows two of its members who were beaten in Montluc prison at Lyon to strip the alleged informer and repeatedly beat him as onlookers shout: “Bastard. Traitor. Scum.” Blood and mucus soon run from his nose. His eye is damaged. He moans, “Ow, ow, oh, oh. …” He crumples in a heap on the floor. Duras wrote that he had “become someone without anything in common with other men. And with every minute the difference grows bigger and more established.”
She goes on:
“Every blow rings out in the silent room. They’re hitting at all the traitors, at the women who left, at all those who didn’t like what they saw from behind the shutters.” She departs before finding out if he is executed. She and her small resistance band had become Nazis. They acted no differently than Hamas did when it executed more than 15 suspected collaborators last week in Gaza.
Our failure to understand the psychological mechanisms involved means that the brutality we inflict, and that is inflicted upon us, will continue in a deadly and self-defeating cycle in the Middle East as well as within poor urban areas of the United States. To break this cycle we have to examine ourselves and halt the indiscriminant violence that sustains our occupations. But examining ourselves instead of choosing the easy route of nationalist self-exaltation is hard and painful. These killings will stop only when we accept that the killers who should terrify us most are ourselves.
Hedges previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The Spread of Anti-Arab Hatered In Schools
“For me, personally, Arabs are something I can’t look at and can’t stand,” a 10th-grade girl from a high school in the central part of the country says in abominable Hebrew. “I am tremendously racist. I come from a racist home. If I get the chance in the army to shoot one of them, I won’t think twice. I’m ready to kill someone with my hands, and it’s an Arab. In my education I learned that … their education is to be terrorists, and there is no belief in them. I live in an area of Arabs, and every day I see these Ishmaelites, who pass by the [bus] station and whistle. I wish them death.”
The student’s comments appear in a chapter devoted to ethnicity and racism among youth from a forthcoming book, “Scenes from School Life” (in Hebrew) by Idan Yaron and Yoram Harpaz. The book is based on anthropological observations made by Dr. Yaron, a sociologist, over the course of three years in a six-year, secular high school in the Israeli heartland – “the most average school we could find,” says Harpaz, a professor of education.
The book is nothing short of a page-turner, especially now, following the overt displays of racism and hatred of the Other that have been revealed in the country in the past month or so. Maybe “revealed” isn’t the right word, as it suggests surprise at the intensity of the phenomenon. But Yaron’s descriptions of what he saw at the school show that such hatred is a basic everyday element among youth, and a key component of their identity. Yaron portrays the hatred without rose-colored glasses or any attempt to present it as a sign of social “unity.” What he observed is unfiltered hatred. One conclusion that arises from the text is how little the education system is able – or wants – to deal with the racism problem.
Not all educators are indifferent or ineffective. There are, of course, teachers and others in the realm of education who adopt a different approach, who dare to try and take on the system. But they are a minority. The system’s internal logic operates differently.
Much of the chapter on racism revolves around the Bible lessons in a ninth-grade class, whose theme was revenge. “The class starts, and the students’ suggestions of examples of revenge are written on the blackboard,” the teacher told Yaron. A student named Yoav “insists that revenge is an important emotion. He utilizes the material being studied to hammer home his semi-covert message: All the Arabs should be killed. The class goes into an uproar. Five students agree with Yoav and say openly: The Arabs should be killed.”
One student relates that he heard in the synagogue on Shabbat that “Aravim zeh erev rav” [“Arabs are a rabble,” in a play on words], and also Amalek, and there is a commandment to kill them all,” a reference to the prototypical biblical enemy of the Children of Israel. Another student says he would take revenge on anyone who murdered his family, but would not kill them all.
“Some of the other students are outraged by this [softer stance],” the teacher reported. “The student then makes it clear that he has no love for Arabs and that he is not a leftist.”
Another student, Michal, says she is shocked by what she is hearing. She believes that the desire for revenge will only foment a cycle of blood; not all Arabs are bad, she adds, and certainly they don’t all deserve to die. “People who decree the fate of others so easily are not worthy of life,” she says.
Yoav himself claims to have heard Michal say: “Too bad you weren’t killed in a terrorist attack.”
“The students all start shouting,” the teacher says, according to Yaron. “Some are personally insulted, others are up in arms, and Michal finds herself alone and absorbing all the fire – ‘Arab lover,’ ‘leftist.’ I try to calm things down. The class is too distraught to move on to the biblical story. The bell rings. I let them out and suggest that they be more tolerant of one another.”
In the corridor during the break, the teacher notices that a crowd has gathered from all the ninth-grade classes. They have formed a human chain and are taunting Michal: “Fie, fie, fie, the Arabs will die.” The teacher: “I contemplated for five seconds whether to respond or keep going down the corridor. Finally I dispersed the gathering and insisted that Michal accompany me to the teachers’ room. She was in a state of shock, reeling under the insult, with tears to come instantly.”
Six students are suspended for two days. The teacher reports on his conversation with Michal: “She continues to be laconic. This is what always happens, she says. The opinions are racist, and her only regret is speaking out. I just want to hug her and say I’m sorry I put her through this trauma. I envy her courage to say aloud things that I sometimes am incapable of saying.”
Leftists As ‘Israel-Haters’
In his research, Yaron spoke with Michal and Yoav, with other students in the class and with the homeroom teacher and the principal. The multiplicity of versions of the goings-on that emerge suggest a deep conflict and a lack of trust between the educators and the pupils. Each world functions separately, with the adults exercising little if any influence on the youngsters. It’s hard to believe that the suspension, or the punishment inflicted on some of the students – for example, to prepare a presentation for the ninth-grade classes on the subject of racism – changed anyone’s opinion.
The same goes for the principal’s unequivocal declaration that, “There will be no racist comments in our school.” Even the essay Michal was asked to write on the subject was soon forgotten. “The intention was to launch an educational program, but in the meantime it was postponed,” the homeroom teacher admits.
A year later, however, the incident itself was still remembered in the school. The same student who told Yaron that she won’t think twice if she gets the opportunity “to shoot one of them” when she serves in the army, also said, “As soon as I heard about the quarrel with that leftist girl [Michal], I was ready to throw a brick at her head and kill her. In my opinion, all the leftists are Israel-haters. I personally find it very painful. Those people have no place in our country – both the Arabs and the leftists.”
Anyone who imagines this as a local, passing outburst is wrong. As was the case with the girl from the ORT network vocational school who alleged earlier this year that her teacher had expressed “left-wing views” in the classroom – in this case too a student related that he cursed and shouted at a teacher who “justified the Arabs.” The students say that workshops to combat racism, which are run by an outside organization, leave little impression. “Racism is part of our life, no matter how much people say it’s bad,” a student said.
In the concluding discussion in just one such workshop, the moderator asked the students how they thought racism might eradicated. “Thin out the Arabs,” was the immediate reply. “I want you to leave here with the knowledge that the phenomenon exists, for you to be self-critical, and then maybe you will prevent it,” the moderator said. To which one student shot back, “If we’re not racist, that makes us leftists.”
The moderator, in a tone of despair: “I’d like it if you took at least something small from this workshop.” A student responds to the challenge: “That everyone should live the way he wants, that if he thinks he’s racist, let him think what he wants, and that’s all.”
As an adjunct of racism and hatred, ethnic identities – Mizrahi (Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries) and Ashkenazi – are also flourishing. Yoav believes that there is “discrimination between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. We were severely punished for the incident [with Michal], but if it were the other way around, that wouldn’t have happened.” Yoav later told Yaron that he found the common saying, “What’s this, an [open-air] market?” offensive, because his whole family works in the local produce market.
“Our business has existed since the state was established,” he said. “I am proud of my father, who is a man of the market. What are they trying to say, that my father isn’t cultured? When people say something about ‘Arabs,’ it’s considered a generalization, but when they say ‘market,’ that’s alright. When people say ‘market,’ they are actually talking about Mizrahim. We need to change the prejudices about the market and about the Mizrahim. People say I am a racist, but it’s just the opposite.”
“There is no discussion about the topic of racism in the school and there probably will not be,” the principal admits. “We are not prepared for the deep, long-term process that’s necessary. Even though I am constantly aware of the problem, it is far from being dealt with. It stems in the first place from the home, the community and the society, and it’s hard for us to cope with it. You have to remember that another reason it’s hard to deal with the problem is that it also exists among the teachers. Issues such as ‘human dignity’ or ‘humanism’ are in any case considered left-wing, and anyone who addresses them is considered tainted.”
Threat Of Noise
Prof. Yoram Harpaz is a senior lecturer at Beit Berl Teachers College and the editor of Hed Hahinuch, a major educational journal. Recalling the recent promise of Education Minister Shay Piron that classes in the first two weeks of the coming school year will be devoted to “emotional and social aspects of the summer’s events,” including “manifestations of racism and incitement,” Harpaz observes that schools in their present format “are incapable of dealing with the racist personality and identity.”
He adds: “The schools are not geared for this. They can only impart basic knowledge and skills, hold examinations on them and grade the students. In fact, they have a hard time doing even that. In classes of 40 students, with a strict curriculum and exams that have to be held, it is impossible to engage in values-based education.”
Yaron, a senior lecturer in sociology at Ashkelon Academic College, emphasizes how important teachers and the principal (and the education system in general) feel it is to stick to the curriculum and the lessons schedule – two islands of quiet amid a risk-laden reality.
“Doing this makes it possible for the teachers not to enter a dynamic sphere, which obligates openness and is liable to open a Pandora’s box, too,” he notes. “The greatest threat to the teacher is that there will be noise – that someone will complain, that an argument will break out, etc. That danger looms especially large in subjects that interest young people, such as sexuality, ethnicity, violence and racism. Teachers lack the tools to cope with these issues, so they are outsourced, which only emasculates educational personnel even more.”
The demand for quiet in the schools is not only an instrumental matter, deriving from the difficulty of keeping order in the classroom. There is also an ideological aspect involved. In general, there is a whole series of subjects that are not recommended for discussion in schools, such as the Nakba (or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to denote the establishment of the State of Israel), human rights and the morality of Israeli army operations. This was one of the reasons for the warnings issued by Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev during the fighting in the Gaza Strip about “extreme and offensive remarks.”
Harpaz: “In Israel, the most political country there is, political education has not been developed as a discipline in which high-school students are taught how to think critically about political attitudes, or the fact that those attitudes are always dependent on a particular viewpoint and on vested interests.”
What, then, can be done? According to Harpaz, the solution will not be found in discussions between the homeroom teacher and the students. Nor is a condemnation, however late, by the education minister sufficient. A more radical change is needed.
“Values and outlooks are acquired in a lengthy process of identification with ‘significant others,’ such as teachers,” Harpaz explains. “This means that every aspect of the schools – patterns of teaching, evaluation methods, curricula, the physical structure and the cultural climate – has to change in the direction of becoming far more dialogical and democratic.”
And he has one more recommendation: not to flee from political and moral dilemmas, or from possible criticism. “Our leaders are so fearful of criticism, but they don’t understand that critical education is what generates close ties and caring. We get angry at those we love.”
For more stories, go to Haaretz.com.