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The double standard when discussing Israeli racism

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The ongoing national conversation on the wearing of blackface by prominent politicians, ironically occurring during Black History Month, is part of a critical examination of racism, institutional and personal, now unfolding in the U.S. A recent poll revealed that 20 percent of Americans have seen blackface in person, most whites would forgive the practice if it were in the distant past while most African-Americans are understandably far less forgiving. Blackface, sometimes linked with Ku Klux Klan imagery, is a very visible example of a profoundly endemic bigotry that has poisoned our society well beyond the yearbooks of some middle aged Virginia politicians. These racist attitudes are grounded in our history of enslavement of Africans, Jim Crow, red lining, miscegenation, and a host of other injustices, and the efforts (both conscious and unconscious) of white people to both mock and dehumanize black and brown people. In progressive circles, grappling with these issues is understood to be critical for an enlightened society interested in moving the slow wheels of justice forward. I suspect that for most Jews in the U.S., the value of these discussions is obvious.

So what are we to make of our double standard when it comes to racism and Israel, a society that liberal Jews frequently tout as “the only democracy in the Middle East?” I recently became aware that Israel’s ministry of tourism is touting a program for foreign Jews (that would be us) to find love in Israel in 2019 for Tu B’Av, a minor Jewish holiday on August 15, that is often referred to as the holiday of love, the Israeli version of Valentine’s Day.  The Electronic Intifada reported Likud member, Sharren Haskel, told Yisrael Hayom, “Young [Jewish] men and women from all over the world will arrive and form relationships with local young men and women, in order to prevent assimilation and strengthen the connection to Judaism.” Preventing assimilation can be viewed as a form of anti-miscegenation, a desire to keep the Jewish people, (are they thinking Jewish race?)  untainted by the non-kosher gene pool of the goyim, to keep us Jews, (by whatever definition) pure. As soon as someone starts talking about racial purity, I get nervous. The Jewish only mixers features performances, a wine tasting, folk dancing and camping  under the header of “back to the Palmach and the Irgun,” two Zionist paramilitary groups that were involved in ethnically cleansing 750,000 indigenous Palestinians in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The messaging is not subtle.

The subtext to this announcement is the ongoing governmental attempts to encourage Jewish marriages and to prevent romantic alliances between Jews and non-Jews, in Israel and internationally, (ie. us). These policies are actualized through racist laws like the rabbinical prohibition on “mixed marriages” between Jews and non-Jews through the Orthodox rabbinate’s control of personal laws, and the ban on civil marriage. This is made even more real by the inability of a Palestinian Israeli citizen (perhaps married to a Jew) to rent or buy a home in the 43 percent of Israeli towns that have a residential committee that assesses “incompatibility with social and cultural fabric,” read Arab. This only contributes to the highly segregated realities in Israel where there are barriers erected to prevent people who are from different backgrounds from ever meeting each other as social equals or living in the same neighborhood. 

Then there are the interventions of anti-miscegenation groups such as Lehava ‏(Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land‏), Hemla, Yad L’Achim, Lev L’Achim, Derekh Hayim, and the The Jewish Voice.  They spew racist propaganda and patrol public spaces in Israel, harassing “mixed couples” and protesting Jewish Palestinian wedding ceremonies with hateful chants, extolling racial and religious purity. The focus of these right wing extremists is often the beating of Arab men seen with Jewish women, described by Haaretz as “lynchings.” With echoes of U.S. slavery and Jim Crow, the groups talk of preserving “the honor of daughters of Israel,” saving (innocent, passive) Jewish women from seduction (by hypersexualized, conniving, violent Arab men), that theoretically then leads to abduction, mixed marriages, and assimilation. These racist activities have reached the level of sympathetic hearings in the Knesset and are often just ignored as criminal behavior by law enforcement agencies.  This kind of racist ideology, perhaps in a less violent form, is also part of more liberal as well as LGBT Israeli society, as in, “I can accept your male lover, but not, God forbid, an Arab lover.”

Another feature in the campaigns to get Jews to marry other Jews are the international programs like Birthright, founded in 1999 during a panic about rising intermarriage in the U.S.. Between 2010 and 2015 the Israeli government transferred  more than $250 million (NIS 942 million) to an international birthright company, which operates the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, a free 10-day trip for young Jews. The program is supported by wealthy private donors like Trump’s favorite Sheldon Adelson, Michael Steinhardt, Charles Bronfman, and Ron Lauder, and the Israeli government, with the stated aid to prevent assimilation and build an international and literal  love affair with Israel. While promoting Zionism and emigration, the free trip has been described by one participant-reporter in Vice in 2012 as a “free sex vacation to Israel” and an “all-expenses-paid orgy in the desert,” sponsored by the Israeli government in the hope that “young Semites will meet, marry and procreate, yielding little mini Jews.” Since 2004, the state along with the Jewish Agency and Jewish Federations also has funded MASA Israel Journey, a program that supports Jews 18 to 30, coming to Israel for internships, education, and volunteering. And falling in love. 

Clearly, many liberal minded Israelis are dismayed by these kinds of attitudes and there are mixed marriages in Israel; it is estimated that 10 percent of marriages are between Jewish men and non-Jewish Russian women, and a tiny fraction between Jews and Palestinians. Hence the wedding overseas, often in Cyprus. Nonetheless it is the institutional racism that is most disturbing. The Jewish Home party and its leader, Naftali Bennett, has led the charge as education minister, recommending removing films and books about mixed relationships from high school curriculums.  The education ministry has also funded moving religious Jews into mixed areas such as Jaffa to Judaize neighborhoods and harass the local Palestinians, particularly condemning mixed relationships.  “When there are mixed marriages in almost every building in Jaffa, we must strengthen Jewish identity.” In 2018 also as Diaspora Affairs Minister, Bennett expanded his vision, talking about spending $1 billion a year to promote “the future of the Jewish people” abroad ( This is the guy that described mixed marriages as a disaster comparable to the Nazi Holocaust. Not to get too complacent, Isaac Herzog of the so called left wing Zionist Union and Labor parties and new head of the Jewish Agency, also “called mixed families ‘a plague.'”

Which brings us back to Valentine’s Day, miscegenation, and white supremacy. In 1966 the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the Loving v. Virginia case and overturned their convictions unanimously the following year. We still have a long way to go, especially with a racist in the White House and his enabling of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. The good news is that a more honest conversation about race and racism is now more front and center in our discourse. Racism, which is all about power and resources and the prejudices required to maintain control, is also alive and well in Israel.  It is no longer acceptable for progressives and liberal minded Jews to ignore the kind of policies and practices in the Land of Israel that are increasingly unacceptable here.

Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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10 Responses

  1. Maximus Decimus Meridius on February 21, 2019, 2:09 pm

    “Clearly, many liberal minded Israelis are dismayed by these kinds of attitudes”

    Are they though? How many of them would marry an Arab, or be happy if a member of their family did? As you say, while marriages between Jews and ‘white’ people are fairly common, marriages between Jews and Palestinians are very rare.

    How many of these ‘dismayed’ Israelis have demanded more liberal marriage policies from their elected officials? And more to the point, how many of them can understand the obvious: that such policies are part and parcel of maintaining the demographics of the “Jewish state.” If they want a Jewish state – and I’m assuming the vast majority do – then they have to accept such policies, however offensive they may be to their ‘liberal’ self-image.

  2. JLewisDickerson on February 21, 2019, 5:46 pm

    RE: “Blackface, sometimes linked with Ku Klux Klan imagery, is a very visible example of a profoundly endemic bigotry that has poisoned our society well beyond the yearbooks of some middle aged Virginia politicians. These racist attitudes are grounded in our history of enslavement of Africans, Jim Crow, red lining, miscegenation, and a host of other injustices, and the efforts (both conscious and unconscious) of white people to both mock and dehumanize black and brown people.” ~ Rothchild

    Judy Garland in blackface in “Everybody Sing” (1938)

  3. JWalters on February 21, 2019, 7:46 pm

    Here’s further supporting info on Israel’s insane religious bigotry.
    “‘Rule of the Rabbis’ Fuels Holy War in Israel”

    And it’s definitely true that America needs to clean its own house. Nancy Pelosi declares this atrocity to be one of the greatest historical achievements of the 20th century! Yikes!

  4. Misterioso on February 22, 2019, 9:43 am

    For the record:
    Facebook “rolls over” and is now undeniably “joined at the hip” with “Israel.”

    “Facebook gives nod to secret pro-Israel campaign”
    By Ali Abunimah,Media Watch, Electronic Intifada, 21 February 2019

    “Facebook has banned several pages belonging to such viral media outlets as In the Now because they are affiliates of the Russian-funded network RT – even though these media outlets violated none of the social network’s rules.

    “Yet The Electronic Intifada can exclusively reveal that Facebook has given a nod of approval to a network of secretive and deceptive pages set up by The Israel Project, a lobby group that collaborates with the Israeli government and with Israel’s military establishment to influence public opinion against Palestinians.

    “Last week, Facebook took down several pages run by Maffick Media. This came after CNN ran a report that the majority stakeholder of the company ‘is Ruptly, a subsidiary of RT, which is funded by the Russian government.’

    “Often featuring reporter Rania Khalek, one of those outlets, In The Now, creates viral videos on current affairs, including this recent one debunking US claims used to justify the Trump administration’s regime change effort in Venezuela…

    “However, CNN drew on Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab as a supposed expert to claim that In The Now journalists ‘routinely boost Kremlin narratives, especially those which portray the West negatively.’

    “A pro-war think tank, The Atlantic Council boasts funders including NATO, the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, and a slew of arms companies.

    “It’s supposed digital sleuth Nimmo has such a poor track record that he has falsely identified living individuals, including a Ukrainian concert pianist and a British senior citizen, as ‘Russian bots.’

    “CNN also acknowledged that the relationship between Maffick Media and RT was brought to its attention by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a cut-out of the US and NATO-financed German Marshall Fund.

    “The Alliance for Securing Democracy’s ‘advisory council’ is a who’s who of US government figures and right-wing ideologues including former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, neoconservative war hawk Bill Kristol, former CIA acting director Michael Morell, Hillary Clinton presidential campaign chair John Podesta and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis.

    “CNN reporters claimed that their network’s ‘investigation’ uncovered that ‘Russia is paying to produce viral videos aimed at Americans’ – even though the fact that In The Now has Russian funding was not a secret and already widely known.

    “CNN even misquoted Maffick Media chief operating officer J. Ray Sparks to make it seem like he had acknowledged duplicitous behavior by his company to conceal its Russian funding, when he was merely noting that it was ‘standard industry practice’ among all media outlets not to include extensive disclosures about their ownership structures.

    “Journalist Glenn Greenwald, a campaigner against censorship, excoriated CNN as ‘obsessed with, and steadfastly devoted to, pressuring social media companies to censor from the internet political content critical of the US government.’

    “The network also ’employs many ex-agents’ and ‘never disclose the interests of their weapons advertisers in the wars they promote,’ Greenwald added. ‘But they demand Facebook censors others.’

    “Secret Israeli propaganda”
    “In stark contrast to Facebook’s swift removal of pages belonging to media outlets that challenge US government policies, the social network has taken no action against a secret influence campaign run by The Israel Project, a major lobby group.

    “The effort to manipulate unsuspecting Facebook users was revealed in The Lobby – USA, an undercover Al Jazeera documentary that was never broadcast by the network due to censorship by Qatar following pressure from pro-Israel organizations.

    “But The Electronic Intifada obtained a leaked copy of the film and published it in full in November.

    “The Israel Project created a network of seemingly innocuous pages, including Cup of Jane – which has more than half a million followers – Soul Mama, History Bites, We Have Only One Earth and This Explains That.

    “These pages mostly share funny or inspirational material, often with a progressive or feminist tilt, mostly with no connection to Israel.

    “But The Israel Project regularly drops pro-Israel material into the stream of content – while concealing entirely or failing to explicitly acknowledge that the pages are run by a group that works to promote Israel and its government’s policies.

    “In the leaked film, Jordan Schachtel, who worked for The Israel Project at the time, tells the undercover Al Jazeera reporter about the logic and extent of the covert Facebook operation:

    Short video featuring interview with Jordan Schachtel:

    “’We’re putting together a lot of pro-Israel media through various social media channels that aren’t The Israel Project’s channels,’ Schachtel tells the undercover reporter. ‘So we have a lot of side projects that we are trying to influence the public debate with.’

    “’That’s why it’s a secretive thing,” Schachtel adds. ‘Because we don’t want people to know that these side projects are associated with The Israel Project.’

    “The reporter asks if the idea of ‘all the rest of the non-Israel stuff is to allow the Israel stuff to pass better.’

    “’It’s just that we want to like blend in everything,’ Schachtel explains.

    “David Hazony, the managing director of The Israel Project, is also heard telling Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter: ‘There are also things that we do that are completely off the radar. We work together with a lot of other organizations.’

    “’We produce content that they then publish with their own name on it,’ Hazony adds.

    “In September, soon after it revealed The Israel Project-run pages, The Electronic Intifada asked Facebook if the secret influence campaign violated any of Facebook’s policies – particularly in light of the furore over the alleged, though unsubstantiated or false, charges of a massive Russia-backed effort to use social media to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

    “But until now, The Electronic Intifada did not publish Facebook’s response: A spokesperson for Facebook wrote that the company looked at the pages covertly run by The Israel Project and concluded that they ‘don’t violate any of Facebook’s pages policies.’

    “This is hardly surprising given that it was already known that Facebook partners with the Israeli and US governments to delete accounts that those governments do not like.

    “But it is more clear proof that Facebook isn’t concerned about protecting users from unwitting exposure to government propaganda.

    “Rather, it is colluding with the US and allied governments, and government-aligned corporate media like CNN, to suppress reportage and opinion that challenge the United States and its client regimes like Israel.”

  5. Jejasalo on February 22, 2019, 11:14 am

    Oddly enough, coming from mixed parentage (one Jewish; one Christian) I grew up appreciating both, understanding anti-Semitism better, having a built in empathy for those who are “different” and wanting to learn more about other cultures and religions.

    Someone else with a similar background might have developed totally different attitudes- wanting to embrace one faith over another or resenting the divide in their parents’ faiths.

    Clearly, part of our reaction comes from different personal backgrounds and the environment we grow up in. Life in my house was not always easy. The terms “goy” and “goyish” were used pejoratively by my Jewish parent against anyone or anything they thought of as inferior. And yet the Jewish parent insisted my siblings and I all get baptized. This was a paranoid “just in case” measure coming from someone who lived through the Nazi holocaust… and that parent always told me never to lose my baptism certificate even if I chose to be Jewish when I was older.

    This upbringing definitely made us think about a lot, sometimes with anger and sometimes with understanding. I appreciated both of my parents’ faith and could never have decided which was the better or truer faith. What I do remember is ultimately wanting to be Jewish and deciding that’s how I’d marry & raise my children. I thought Judaism was the more interesting of the two, though there were things about the Christian faith I liked as well. Two other siblings chose Christianity.

    I was fine with either & respected both kids’ choices. This was how a model society should be, I thought. But then, growing up Jewish caused me to be on the receiving end of some pretty ugly ant-Semitic actions and attitudes. For one whole year at school I was afraid to tell anyone I was Jewish so pretended I wasn’t…. this was after an event in my 7th grade art class when we were making stained glass windows. Mine was in the shape of the Star of David. I thought it was so beautiful the way I’d designed it. The kids sitting at my art table didn’t think so. “Jew!” one started chanting. You’re a JEW. Get out of here!” I started to shake when all but one of the students joined in with him and started rolling up pellets of paper that they’d spit on and throw at me. It was relentless and I was shaking. The Art teacher, a sweet but meek lady, saw the whole thing happen, remained at the back of the class and gave me an apologetic smile on my way out the door. Though it might have seemed like something small, I was afraid to go to that class the rest of the term. I went, but not without my heart pounding & my hands shaking. I’d got a few other awful comments about how I “killed Christ” and that I must be rich.

    In my semester abroad in Jerusalem at Hebrew University I finally experienced the reverse kind of bigotry: “You’re not really Jewish,” they’d say. My Christian parent made me an outcast again. But worst of all was when Meir Kahane was invited to speak to our class. In an extremely naive moment, I asked Kahane what he thought about children of mixed faith backgrounds. Surely he’d be partially sympathetic.

    Kahane blew up and said Jews who married outside their faith and who had children were cancerous and that their children were spreading that cancer. I said “so even though I consider myself Jewish you are saying I’m a piece of cancer?!?” Again I expected a more diplomatic response, but Kahane came right up to me and roared, “yes, you are a spreading cancer among us and I would prefer it if you got out of here!”

    A few students came to my defense and shouted at him. The time was up though so Kahane got up and was circled by his admirers and those still curious about his views.

    In Israel that fall I began to get to know Palestinian secular & Muslim students. I cultivated their friendship on purpose because the group I was in – they could argue over what I really was but they mostly continued to accept me as the Jewish person I was.

    Palestinian Arab and Muslims were the real red line. Nobody had anything good to say about them. They were the wily enemy we needed to be careful about and stay away from. They all wanted to kill us. The jokes and slurs I listened to against Muslims and Arabs were enough to make one feel sick. I think it was about this time that I decided I didn’t want to be friends with the students whose anti-Muslim & anti-Palestinian racism disgusted me, —-but that was not only acceptable it was also encouraged.. All of this kind of hatred made me feel cynical and depressed.

    Not much has changed.

    • Nathan on February 22, 2019, 5:27 pm

      Jejasalo – Your parent who advised being baptised “just in case” didn’t really understand the events of the Holocaust. The Nazi regime was not persecuting Jews because of their religious beliefs. Jews who had converted to Christianity were murdered together with the other Jews. There are lots of people who understand Jewish identity to be only a religious identity, and so they draw the (incorrect) conclusion that the persecution of Jews must have been because of their religion. It’s true that Judaism is a religion; however, the issue at hand was not the religion that the Jews created, rather the Jews themselves were defined as the enemy of mankind. It was therefore decided to kill them all (including those who had been baptised).

      • Jejasalo on February 23, 2019, 8:49 am

        Actually, it was not that “they were defined as the enemy of mankind.” One big difference between pre-19th century antisemism and post is that Jews could indeed convert to save their souls. Eugenics was a leading science by the mid 19th century. When the Nazis used it, the true believers claimed that Jews were inferior by blood, not just religion and that blood can’t “convert.” Hence the need to eradicate inferior races; stop miscegenation; etc. My parent never really understood this. Had been a young kid when bullies chased them around the block with knives saying “you killed Christ!”

  6. dsowd on February 22, 2019, 11:55 am

    Conspicuously absent from Rothchild’s analysis:

  7. genesto on February 22, 2019, 1:12 pm

    ‘ —- saving (innocent, passive) Jewish women from seduction (by hypersexualized, conniving, violent Arab men)’.

    Guess my Jewish wife didn’t get the memo before she married Arab me! Well, at least I’ll have a companion in hell!! :-{)

  8. YoniFalic on February 22, 2019, 2:20 pm

    Here is a strong indication that the double standard is falling.

    United States Court of Appeals
    Argued October 16, 2018 Decided February 19, 2019
    No. 17-5207
    Appeal from the United States District Court
    for the District of Columbia
    (No. 1:16-cv-00445)

    Bassem al-Tamimi is Ahed al-Tamimi’s father.

    He’s a great guy. It is obvious whence Ahed receives her courage and her intelligence.

    Kudos to Martin F. McMahon, Esquire!

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