In one of his posts from the Holy Land, Phil referred to an obnoxious teenager on a bus as an “ars” (Israeli slang for unsavoury young man, inevitably Mizrahi – from the Arabic word for pimp), and Avigdor “Yvette” Lieberman the “Russian” bouncer seems to be a mainstay of liberal discourse about Israel and Israeli politics these days. Phil picked up the slur “Homo Sovieticus” here (probably without grasping its significance).
These are Israeli stereotypes or, more specifically, some of the favourite stereotypes (along with those concerning the settlers and the religious) of Israel’s predominantly-Ashkenazi, secular, liberal, Zionist elite – called Ahusalim by the late Baruch Kimmerling. Apart from their appalling racism, these stereotypes also serve to perpetuate the myth of Israel’s inherent progressiveness and pre-’67 innocence (before all of these “others” came and stole “our” state from us). A good example of this self-delusion and sense of lost entitlement can be found in the recent Declaration of Independence from Fascism, published in response to the government’s proposed “loyalty oath” and other insufficiently-concealed racist bills on the Knesset calendar.
So why do those who claim to seek justice and equality for Palestinians (in the name of anti-racism) embrace racist Israeli stereotypes? Maybe it’s because so much of our information about Israel comes from Israeli sources. Or maybe it’s because we see liberal Israelis as our peers, instinctively trust them and respect their dissident voices, and have trouble separating them from our own. The ’67-paradigm reflected in the two-state solution many of us support (if only in terms of “the art of the possible”) also distinguishes between the theft that most benefited the country’s liberal elite (1948-1967), and the post-’67 theft that most benefited the Third Israel (as well as the First Israel, if only as an alternative and significantly cheaper welfare system – see Y. Shenhav, The Time of the Green Line), creating a false distinction between “good” (liberal Ashkenazi) and “bad” (Russian, Mizrahi and religious) Israelis.
There is a hierarchy of racism in Israel that permeates all discourse – even, and maybe especially, critical, left-wing discourse. Not only is it incorrect to blame Israel’s systemic discrimination on some of its (partial) victims, but to associate the ills of Israeli society – and particularly Israeli racism – with specific subgroups (Russian, Mizrahi, Religious), is in itself racist.