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‘Arab culture is the jungle’: Leader in Gantz’s Blue White party gives racist Haaretz interview

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I think the Arab culture around us is the jungle,

This is according to Yoaz Hendel in an interview with Haaretz journalist Ravit Hecht on Friday (Hebrew).

Hendel is in the top 10 leadership of the Benny Gantz’s Blue White party, which has 33 seats in the Israeli parliament. The party is supposed to serve as a centrist opposition to Netanyahu’s Likud, and mostly polls above Likud by a couple of seats for the coming elections in March.

The interview is harrowing. Hendel makes generally derisive comments on Arab culture:

There are people who came here from all kinds of countries; some came with the mentality of a concert in Vienna and some came with the mentality of darbukas,

Hendel told Hecht, referring to a type of drum popular in the Middle East.

This is not the first time Hendel has spread racist propaganda. In 2017, his weekly column in Yediot Aharonot featured a revenge-fantasy, where Palestinians played Nazis. In an orientalist “rally for democracy” organized by Blue White last year, Hendel boycotted the event since it was announced at last moment that leader of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint List, Ayman Odeh, would be speaking.

Hendel has come into Blue White from Likud, as part of the Telem faction with Moshe Ya’alon, who is number 3 on the Blue White list. Ya’alon is also a former Likudnik, has served as Defense Minister, and also has a record of anti-Palestinian racism, having compared the Palestinian “threat” to “cancer”, to which he applies “chemotherapy” (it was 2002, he was army Chief of Staff). Hendel was Director of Communications and Hasbara (‘public diplomacy’) for Netanyahu in 2011-2012.

The “Arab culture around us is the jungle” statement doesn’t come from nowhere. The notion of Israel as a “villa in the jungle” is actually attributed to “left” leader Ehud Barak, he said it in an official address in 1996. Barak has also congratulated Trump’s racist warning of “Mohammed” becoming Prime Minister and has opined that “they (the Palestinians, and especially Arafat) are the products of a culture in which to tell a lie… creates no dissonance… they don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture”.

Here’s more from the interview:

Hecht: You’ve said in the past that Israel is a villa in the jungle. You repeat here that our advantage over Palestinians is the morality. Do you think the Arab culture is a jungle?

Hendel: Yes, certainly. I think that the Arab culture surrounding us is a jungle. There is a gross violation of every single human right that we recognize in the Western world. These rights haven’t even sprung up there. They haven’t reached the evolutionary stage of having human rights. There are no women’s rights, no LGBT rights, no minority rights and no education. Most Arab states are failed dictatorships, which is why the peace treaties we make here are limited to the leadership. It’s not peace between peoples because there is no education for peace and tolerance.

Hecht challenges Hendel:

Hecht: Also in Israel hatred of Arabs is a popular norm.

Hendel: There is racism and it needs to be taken care of, but every time I see in ‘A Star is Born’ or ‘Master Chef’ where Israelis vote for an Arab contestant, or when I go around hospitals because of my wife (she’s a doctor of Gynecology, ed.) I am in the impression that finally, life here is devoid of racism”.

This is a really awful ironic point. Hendel seeks to apply his classical Hasbara in pointing to the ‘Israeli Arabs’ as a proof of Israel’s supposedly blossoming democracy. But the point about the hospitals – has Hendel not been following the issue of widespread and systemic racial segregation of mothers at Israeli maternity wards? Has he not noted the words of far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, who tweeted that “[a]fter giving birth, my wife wants to rest and not have a party like Arab women do after giving birth”, and that “[i]t is natural that my wife would not want to lay down next to someone who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby in another 20 years”?

Hecht once again challenges Hendel’s racist expressions:

Maybe you vote for an Arab contestant in ‘Master Chef’ yet you say without hesitation: My culture is superior and I do not want to resemble an Arab. That’s also a kind of racism.

Hendel: In my feeling I have nothing racist (sic). In a cognitive way, first of all I take care of my people, my heritage and my history. And that’s reality. I don’t have hate towards anyone and I have personal ties with Palestinians, because I live adjacent to Gush Etzion [settlement bloc].

These expressions of the ‘enlightened colonialist’ saying that ‘some of my friends are Palestinians’ has brought B’tselem chair Hagai El-Ad to compare Hendel with Apartheid South Africa Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, who said:

Our policy is one which is called… ‘apartheid’, and I’m afraid that it is being misunderstood so often. It could just as easily, and perhaps much better be described as a policy of good neighbourliness.

Joint List lawmaker Ahmed Tibi was also particularly sharp in his critique of Hendel’s racism, pointing to how his remarks about Arab music also targeted Arab Jews:

A white racist against Arabs and Mizrahim alike. Hendel is not Tarzan; Hendel is the jungle. I adore [the Lebanese singer] Fairuz and the darbuka in the songs of [the late Egyptian singer] Umm Kulthum, and it’s almost certain that Hendel listens to Wagner every time the boot of the occupation tramples on Palestinians without human rights because of that Western culture that encourages settlements, dispossession and annexation. I despise his worldview and that of some of his friends who believe in Jewish supremacy.

Leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh said that “Hendel’s theory of European supremacy” was disproved by “the ignorance and lack of culture he showed in his interview with Haaretz.”

Hendel’s blatant racism was also too much for several Blue White members. Ofer Shelah (also in the top 10 of Blue White, above Hendel) said that “Yoaz Hendel’s remarks were miserable utterances that would better not have been said and don’t in any way reflect the spirit of Blue White.” Lawmaker Orna Barbivai (ranking just below Hendel) was more muted in her critique: “I think we are all born equal and we don’t give out grades”. Calling Hendel’s remarks superfluous, she said, “I’m in favor of darbukas. But to deduce from this that Hendel is a racist would be an extreme statement.”

The fact that Hendel was somehow equating Mizrahim with a supposed Arab degeneracy also brought in critique by the further right. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retweeted a Likud statement on Twitter saying that Hendel should be ashamed of himself. Forget everything about Netanyahu’s racist statements about Arabs – these are now cheap points to be made against the anti-Netanyahu rival. Even Education Minister Rafi Peretz of the far-right Yamina said he was “proud to be part of a culture of darbukas.” Shas (ultra-orthodox Mizrahi party) lawmaker Ya’akov Margi condemned Hendel’s “condescension” and said Mizrahi Jews came from a grand tradition that included “Maimonides, science and medicine”.

It is somewhat of an irony, that so many racists can become offended by racism. But there is a logic to it; Zionist racism contains several layers. It has a white-supremacist vein from its inception as a European colonialist venture. Yet that vein is coupled with another racism – Jewish supremacy. Palestinians bear the brunt of both aspects. The Mizrahi Jews, who have Arab heritage, want to only adopt the Jewish supremacy, without the white supremacy reflecting badly upon them. Mostly, Zionists manage to balance the act and not alienate the Mizrahim. But when the racism is so blatant and vile as with Hendel, it slips.

H/t Ronit Lentin, Edith Breslauer

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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12 Responses

  1. Misterioso on February 10, 2020, 11:02 am

    “Israel,” ever faster and deeper into the pit of fascism. The only good thing about Zionism is that it is its own worst enemy.

    Food for thought:

    “The Holocaust as a Pretext for Annexation” By Zeev Sternhell
    Haaretz, January 31, 2020

    “The joint operation by Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu to grant American legitimacy to the annexation of Palestinian territories was leaked just as the memorial ceremony of the World Holocaust Forum was taking place at Yad Vashem. It’s hard to conceive of a more cynical combination: In Jerusalem, anti-Semitism was used to silence the expected worldwide opposition to the annexation plan.

    “And thus the anti-Semitism that brought catastrophe upon the Jewish people was turned into a cynical and shameless political tool by Israel. Jerusalem turned anti-Semitism into the ultimate weapon against any call for the removal of even a few Jews from the West Bank and against the idea of dividing the land fairly. To the nationalists, any policy that doesn’t completely mesh with the Israeli interest as they see it is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

    “The talent of Netanyahu and his minions for using the Holocaust and anti-Semitism as a currency requires no further proof, and Europe’s cowardice and inability to stand up to the Israeli right’s blackmail is also notorious. Likud’s Israel has branded denial of the occupation and the apartheid in the territories as anti-Zionist and then equated this anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Europe is, justifiably, racked with guilt feelings toward the Jews; this account will never be closed, but it still doesn’t justify Europe’s forgiving attitude toward Jewish-Israeli nationalism and racism..

    “Paradoxically, this forgiving stance also ends up amounting to active support for the destruction of Israel as a liberal, democratic and Jewish society. Every reasonable person understands that annexation without equal rights for Palestinians means the establishment of a new apartheid state – creating such a reality isn’t exactly one of the EU’s reasons for being. Who in Western Europe is willing to lend patronage to this act and let the Jewish nationalists exploit the unforgivable past to entirely drain Jewish nationalism of any drop of liberal values?

    “Beyond all the discussion on what constitutes the religious and national Jewish identity, Zionism was an answer to European anti-Semitism and one solution to the oppression of the Jews and the mortal danger they were in. Escape to the New World was the favored solution for 90 percent of those who fled Europe before the gates of the United States were closed in the early 1920s.

    “The Zionist solution proved itself because all other doors were locked, and after the Holocaust it gained worldwide legitimacy. But now the nationalist right is trying to expand this legitimacy for freedom and independence to include occupation and annexation. This is the epitome of the cynical and shameful exploitation of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism for the Israeli government’s political needs.

    “Now comes the question: How to make the liberal world understand that there is no connection between anti-Semitism and savage criticism of the occupation and annexation, or of other aspects of Israeli policy in the territories?

    “The German president expressed remorse in a way that inspires respect. Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, his country absorbed a million non-Christian and non-European refugees in an attempt to show that it is free of racism. But Germany and France, which has its own anti-Semitism issues, act like they’re afraid of their own shadows when touching on the sensitive nerve of criticism of Israel.

    “The right’s propaganda has managed to convince many of the best West European liberals that such criticism amounts to opposition to Zionism, which amounts to denying Israel’s right to exist – and therefore amounts to anti-Semitism. This is a total lie, and Israelis should be the first to shout this truth from the rooftops.”

    Zeev Sternhell is a Polish-born Israeli historian, political scientist, commentator on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and writer. He is one of the world’s leading experts on fascism. Sternhell headed the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  2. bcg on February 10, 2020, 1:49 pm

    History flashback! 1840’s, the U.S. is considering war on Mexico –

    “…James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, wasn’t concerned [that conquering Mexican territory would lead to ‘race mixing’]. ‘Amalgamation has always been abhorrent to the Anglo-Saxon race on this continent,’, he wrote; but just as indigenous ‘barbarism’ had ‘receded before the face of civilization,’, the ‘imbecile’ Mexicans were ‘sure to melt away at the approach of Anglo-Saxon energy and enterprise as snow before a southern sun.’ ” (page 91, “Then End of The Myth” by Greg Grandin)

    Sound familiar?

    • RoHa on February 10, 2020, 9:30 pm

      ‘Amalgamation has always been abhorrent to the Anglo-Saxon race on this continent,’

      Really? Even if we restrict it to the North American continent, plenty of Anglo-Saxons amalgamated very enthusiastically with Indians and blacks. Why would they hold themselves back from Mexicans?

      • echinococcus on February 11, 2020, 12:10 am

        Oh, is that what they mean by “amalgamation”? In my times they called it something else.

      • RoHa on February 11, 2020, 8:46 pm

        As far as I know, it’s the only way to get mixed race people.

        But maybe there is some modern technology that can achieve the same result through an iPhone app or something.

  3. just on February 10, 2020, 1:59 pm

    The ‘Arab’ world is old and wise, and this fool and his parents are ‘refugees’ from Europe:

    “Yoaz Hendel was born to a father of Romanian-Jewish descent and to a mother who’s of both Romanian-Jewish and Polish-Jewish descent in Petah Tikva and grew up in the religious settlement of Elkana.[2] At age 18 he joined the Israel Defense Forces, serving in the elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit as a combat officer. Hendel was discharged from the IDF after six years of service, and remained active for several additional years in the Israeli security system and Prime Minister’s Office.[3] During his time in the IDF, Hendel fought in the 2006 Lebanon War and the 2008/09 Gaza War (also known as Operation Cast Lead). He holds the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel in the Reserves where he serves each year.[2]”

    So, he’s a murderer. Great, eh? Whatever he thinks of “the jungle”, don’t ever disparage it. If all of any jungle is destroyed by humans, so will humans as well be destroyed as nearly extinct species are destroyed~ it’s happening right now thanks to greed and avarice. The ‘Arabs’ (including Muslims, Jews, and Christians) were here and over there long before you and yours. They told us about the alphabet, mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and ao much more.

    Israel has only ever given the US, the EU, and MENA war and their own concerns for their ‘security’! Never a care for others’ security or freedom. How much does the US 3.8 billion buy and for what? What about the EU’s endless platitutes and growing nationalism? How about the ‘Arab states’ complicity and Modi’s Islamophobia and murderous past and the US support for all of this?

    Thanks for this, Jonathan. Not that it matters, but I read the article yesterday in Haaretz. It seems almost hopeless, but as the Palestinians’ Sumud marches on, so will mine. Long live Palestine.

  4. Kay24 on February 10, 2020, 7:14 pm

    American dollars keep going to support these modern day nazis. The zionists are evil, greedy people, and very often you can see that they have the same arrogance, and their words and actions show their superiority complex. They look down on those they inflict pain and suffering.

    The UK, EU and the US made this monster, and it is time some David struck it down, and gave the Palestinians their long overdue freedom.

  5. Rashers2 on February 11, 2020, 3:26 pm

    “they (the Palestinians [ ]) are the products of a culture in which to tell a lie… creates no dissonance… they don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture.” Sorry? Were it not for the myriad cynical, serial and pathological Judeo-Christian liars in dangerously powerful positions in e. g. the Zionist state, the USA and many other “culturally Judeo-Christian” countries, Hendel’s primitive garbage would be merely laughable. People like him can’t even do reality checks in front of the mirror before publicly spouting such nonsense – nothing stares back at them; their souls are already missing: “Leuchte, heller Spiegel, mir”:
    (The shortened link probably won’t work here so: – here in German only `cos Schock’s a favourite baritone…)
    I always thought, btw, that there were THREE Abrahamic traditions, not two…

    • RoHa on February 11, 2020, 8:48 pm

      At least four. Baha’i is Abrahamic.

      • Rashers2 on February 12, 2020, 7:23 pm

        Some might argue, I believe, that Bahá’í is an “off-shoot” of Shi’ite Islam. Since, however, there are about as many Bahá’ís worldwide as there are Jews in the Zionist state, I probably should have mentioned them. My point, however, was the glaring exclusion by Hendel from the “culture” of the third major Abrahamic strand, which numbers about two billion adherents.

  6. Ossinev on February 12, 2020, 1:26 pm

    “they don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture.”

    Ah you mean like Herr Trump mein Kamerad !!! Sieg etc etc etc

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