Shimon Gapso and the racism of Israeli life

Israel/Palestine
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Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso (Photo: Tomer Appelbaum)

Some five years ago I wrote disparagingly of Shimon Gapso’s open racism.
At the time he tried to woo his constituency, the residents of the city of Upper Nazareth, on the occasion of the last mayoral elections by resorting to venomous diatribes against the city’s Arab citizens. His main competitor at the time, Ronen Plut, used the same scare tactic of warning the electorate of the danger of Arabs sullying the purity of their Jewish city. When he lost to Gapso, Plut apparently gave up, sold his home to Arabs and moved to a purer locality. He had expressed his discomfort at the fact that those same Arabs had not forgotten that till the 1950’s they had owned the land on which Upper Nazareth was built. So, I presume, he told them and Gapso to shove it.

Gapso is at it again. But now I feel I owe the man an apology. He has exonerated himself in the most logical of arguments. In an op-ed piece in Haaretz  he writes:

Upper Nazareth is a Jewish city and it’s important that it remains so. If that makes me a racist, then I’m a proud offshoot of a glorious dynasty of “racists’” who started with the “Covenant of the Pieces” …

He then proceeds to list a long roster of Jewish historical figures and of Zionist heroes to whom he wants us to compare him. I find it difficult to argue with the man.

To start with, my last name, “Kanaaneh,” is the Arabic version of the biblical “Canaanites.” Apparently it was my ancestral land that his (and perhaps the reader’s) good Lord promised to Moses, commanding him to cleanse it of its then current inhabitants. You, kind reader, will understand why He and I never really got along after that. And I don’t mean Shimon Gapso; he is too powerful for me to take head-on: He belongs to the dominant political stream which is working diligently in the Knesset in the most democratic of ways to obliterate my cultural identity as a Palestinian and to outlaw my obscene secret thoughts, such as feeling sad on Nakba Day. It is the good Lord that I have a bone to pick with. If Gapso’s Yahweh orders him and his ilk to “cleanse the land of its current inhabitants,” Allah commands me and my crowd to “kill them wherever you meet them and drive them out from where they have driven you out; for persecution is worse than killing.” (Chapter 2, verse 192.) And mind you, there are more of us, Allah’s fans, than there are of you, Yahweh’s clique. I am discounting the Christian Zionists, of course, since they want to convert or slaughter all of us, but especially all of you, Gapso!

But I remain hopeful especially now with prime minister Netanyahu’s new obsession with genetics and DNA testing to determine who is really a Jew.
If and when one’s rights devolve back to the sequences of his amino acids, Gapso may loose out. In these parts, we determine one’s roots through the female line of genetic evolution. So while his figurative Jewish grandmother stuck to her faith but fooled around with Arabs and Berbers in Spain and North Africa (take a look at him, will you!) my Canaanite grandma converted to the Jewish, then to the Zoroastrian, the Christian and the Islamic faiths but fornicated only with the locals. You can judge for yourself, dear reader, who has the purer bloodline.

Then I check on my man online. Lo and behold, Gaspo is reported to have admitted to launching a campaign against himself with fabricated attacks against his character by particularly unpopular leftist and Arab politicians. I told you I have no desire to tangle with the man!

Then the weekend paper arrives and, as usual, I check the magazine first: The cover story is a 13-page spread about the “Most influential cultural figures” in Israel. I leaf through the piece: Some 17 critics and journalists attempt to encapsulate for us the significant achievements and outstanding public images of ten (actually 13) prominent cultural icons, each with four alternative deputies. I smile at each of the prominent men and women expectantly but none smiles back at me. I fail to discover the name of a single Palestinian/Arab man or woman in the entire list. Perhaps that is to be expected when none of the critics/journalists is Arab. I go on line and check the full list of 100 most influential cultural figures. I waste another half hour but not a single Arab is to be encountered. And this is in Haaretz, the most liberal and best established paper in the land. I struggle with the existential meaning of this for me, a citizen of a country where I have zero impact on its culture. Finally I settle for a wimpy explanation: “It is a matter of definition,” I reassure myself.

Gapso is a more daring man than I am. He makes a list of all those with whom he wants us to associate him starting with Abraham and Moses, skipping through to Theodor Herzl, and ending with Ben-Gurion. He has one word for the whole lot: “RACIST.” Of course, he must be mistaken or misguided. But if I do the same, and believe me, from where I stand, I am tempted, for the straw man he constructs is very convincing, then I am anti-Semitic.

(Crossposted at Hatim Kanaaneh’s blog A Doctor in Galilee)

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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