Opinion: Rosh Hashanah 2019: The Year Racism Divided the Jewish People

Rosh Hashanah 2019: The Year Racism Divided the Jewish People

Never in Israel’s history has the struggle for the nation’s soul mirrored so completely the political divides in the countries where the Jews live around the world

Analysis: Anshel Pfeffer | Haaretz

When the history of the Jews from the start of the last exile to the 21st century is written, 5779 will be remembered as the year when the split between the two Jewish peoples was imminent. If we’re fortunate, the events of the last two weeks will have proved to be a turning point when the schism was averted. But it’s far too early to say.

Each of the two greatest Jewish communities ever to exist had a dismal low point this year. Both were caused by racism.         

But only Israel’s was self-inflicted. It was the creation of the Union of Right-Wing Parties seven months ago at Benjamin Netanyahu’s behest. That moment when the neo-Kahanists were included in this right-wing bloc, the normalization of Jewish racial supremacy that received the approval of nearly all the Israeli right-wing and Orthodox communities, with the exception of a few tzadikim in Sodom, deserves to be remembered in infamy long after the Netanyahu era has faded from memory.

It doesn’t matter that members of neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit on the right-wing slate failed to enter the Knesset in the April election and then ran alone in this month’s vote, failing to cross the electoral threshold. In some ways, it would have been better if its leader had won a seat – that despicable mass-murderer-admiring Itamar Ben-Gvir.

We would have been reminded every day of the shame. The right-wing politicians and pundits who advocated for a kosher certificate for Otzma and cheered when it was issued, barely tried to keep up the pretense that this was merely a “technical bloc” formed to “prevent the loss of right-wing votes”. They had no problem bringing Ben-Gvir into their tent as a legitimate, if somewhat obtuse, partner.

Of course, Netanyahu deserves the largest portion of blame for stopping at nothing in his frantic quest for political survival – But, there were so many accomplices.

Thirty-five years ago, when Meir Kahane was elected to the Knesset, every other MK, left and right, religious and secular, routinely walked out of his speeches. Now his unrepentant spawn are welcomed, as long as they can muster enough racists to vote for them. They have done more than taint the members of an entire camp with overt and unabashed racism. They have outed them as being no better than Jewish supremacists.

The line dividing those who would include Otzma Yehudit in their coalition and those who still understand the party’s reprehensibility isn’t a geographic or a religious one. There are Israelis on either side of the line. And there are plenty of Diaspora Jews who see little wrong with a heavy dose of racism in their politics.

And while it tends to be the more Orthodox who tend to the far right, there are plenty of secular Jews everywhere who buy in to the new form of Jewish nationalism that goes so well with other brands of populist nativism around the world. But there are also religious Jews who abhor the perversion of Judaism.

Unlike previous fractures that broke the Jewish people apart, this one is not about religion, at least not in the traditional sense. Or about geography. Sure, the overwhelming majority of American Jews are nice liberal-minded Democrats, but in most other Diaspora communities, the trend is to the right.

Go to almost any typical Jewish community in France or Russia or Latin America. Or just consider the fact that a million American Jews voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will do so again in 2020. And how did some of those Jews react after the lowest point this year for American Jews?

In the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the worst act of violence in the history of the American Jewish community, there were plenty of Jews, American and Israeli, some right at the very top of their organizations or government, who whitewashed the direct connection between Donald Trump’s embrace and empowerment of white supremacism and the rise in anti-Semitism.

Furthermore, there is a clear correlation between those who excuse and overlook Jewish racism in Israel and those who refuse to see any danger to Jews from Trumpism. If your politics and allegiance to a specific party or president override true concern for the welfare of Jews, then any protestation of solidarity with Jews is meaningless.

Echoing Feelings

Never in Israel’s history has the internal struggle for the nation’s soul mirrored so completely the political divides in the countries where the Jews live around the world. Ask a Jew in the Diaspora who they’re voting for in their home country and you’ll know what kind of an Israel they want to see. And vice versa. And it wasn’t always like this.

Time was when you could vote Republican – or Conservative in Britain for that matter – and still feel that Israel needed to do a lot more on civil rights, separating state and religion and ending the occupation. And you could be a Democrat or Labour voter and not see the nariest of faults in Israel, whatever government was in power.

Those days are over, and chances are that the frustration, or satisfaction, with Israel is greater because it echoes feelings with one’s own government. And with the current crop of right-wing populist leaders in the West, you often hear stuff like “why can’t the Jews in America be as supportive as the president?” Some have even gone as far as calling it “BETRAYAL”.

There is betrayal all around nowadays. After a very short moment of exhilaration following the result of the election two weeks ago, the chorus is once again building. The left is trying to get in on Arab terrorist-lovers’ votes. The election was crooked. And now a dark cabal of lawyers, judges and journalists is about to take down Netanyahu, the nation’s chosen one – the same tune being heard now on either side of the Atlantic. Societies torn apart. Two Jewish peoples drifting away from each other.

Standby for Election Date Number #3 in Israel: April 2019 – September 2019 – [month] To be announced 2019?

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/03/2019 at 3:23 pm

    Wishing A Happy New Year and All The Best for 2019 to All Jewish Readers

  • Trevor  On 10/03/2019 at 6:55 pm

    Houston, we have a problem if we have to end up like Palestinians. How would America like it if I stole their land using the Bible? Oh wait, the White man already stole the land from the Amerindians through smallpox genocide.

    White man posing as Hebrews, give back that land to the Palestinians!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/03/2019 at 8:48 pm

    Trevor: I don’t agree with you much, but I always said that most of the Jews in Israel are Europeans.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/03/2019 at 9:28 pm

    How ‘Cultural Racism’ Helps Israelis Rationalize Inequality, Discrimination

    ‘Cultural Racism’ blames minorities for their inequality by suggesting that their low social position is due to a lack of effort or failure to adjust to a Western way of life. But active and institutional racism is the real culprit.

    Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg | +972 Magazine

    It has been 35 years since Ethiopians immigrated to Israel, after leaving their strong, close-knit diaspora communities where they kept Jewish tradition alive all those years. And yet, almost four decades later, this community is still fighting for equality in a country where many have failed to look beyond their skin color and traditional clothing.

    The lion’s share of the Ethiopian Jewish community used to live in traditional farming villages before immigrating to Israel and until 1980, only about 250 Jews had left Ethiopia for Israel.

    Most Ethiopian Jews made it to the country in the 1980s, after a long, dangerous journey on foot to Sudan, during which they suffered many losses. After being placed in refugee camps while waiting for permission to enter Israel, they were covertly airlifted to the country by the Israeli Air Force and the Mossad.

    In my research, I analyzed that absorption process. Prior to the arrival of the Ethiopian Jewish community, Israeli officials drew up carefully considered plans to integrate them into the Israeli society. Their intention was to avoid past mistakes that took place with the arrival of Mizrahi Jews decades earlier. Sadly, once again, despite the good intentions, racism plagued both the process and the consequences.

    In her book “Bureaucracy and Ethiopian Immigrants”, Professor Esther Hertzog described how since their arrival in Israel, Israeli institutions have perceived the Ethiopian Jewish community as one that requires special assistance in the process of absorption.

    These institutions deemed Ethiopian Jews to be particularly problematic, requiring special treatment before they could take their first steps in Israel. Furthermore, the authorities found the new immigrants lacked basics skills, such as parenting, which meant that most of their children were sent to boarding schools, without their parents being allowed a say on the matter.

    Those practices were justified based on what scholars call “cultural racism”, which posits that culture, as opposed to biology, underpins “rational” explanations of inequality.

    This brand of racism blames minorities for their inequality by suggesting that their low social position is due to a lack of effort or failure to adjust to the Western way of life.

    Cultural Racism was quickly institutionalized in Israel.

    Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a leading researcher and former president of the American Sociological Association, wrote that institutional racism — which perpetuates the supremacy of the majority group over the minority group — is easily identifiable simply by observing the social structure in a given society. The data reveals what can only be understood as active racism on the part of Israeli institutions against Ethiopian Jews.

    In the criminal justice system alone, Ethiopian Israelis are significantly more likely to be indicted or imprisoned than the general population.

    Ethiopian Israelis comprise only 2 percent of Israeli citizens, but in 2018 as many as 18 percent of all minors imprisoned in the country were of Ethiopian descent and they were three times more likely than the general population to find themselves under indictment.

    In 2016, Ethiopian Israeli adults were nearly twice as likely to be indicted than the general population. They are also the poorest group in Israel, occupying the bottom rung of the income scale.

    Moreover, Israel’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Central Bureau of Statistics, and Tel Aviv University recently published a study that points to a striking pattern of ethnic segregation in the labor market.

    Ethiopian Israelis with academic degrees are almost completely proportionately absent in industries such as publishing, production, radio and television, architecture and engineering, and the automotive industry.

    On the other hand, in almost half of the sectors in which Ethiopian Israelis with academic degrees are employed, they are vastly over-represented. These are mainly the service, sales, and food sectors, where wages are typically very low and even then, their salary does not exceed 75 percent of the salary of other Jews with an academic degree.

    These results show that even having an academic degree is not helping to integrate Ethiopians in terms of job placement or income.

    The most likely explanation for this disparity is racial discrimination in hiring practices.

    Scholars claim that in order to bring social change, minorities should stand up and fight for their rights. But social change is more likely to occur if the majority believes the minority’s experience of racism and discrimination.

    This means veteran Israelis should open their eyes and ears in order to understand how power relations in their society are maintained on the basis of race.

    We all nurture varying degrees of racist attitudes against different groups. The difference lies in our awareness of these attitudes and in how we express or justify them. Once we have become aware, we must ask ourselves:

    Are we willing to cede some privileges and the comfortable life that comes with them in order to establish a moral and equitable society?

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