On the U.S. Jewish establishment’s double standard regarding what gentiles can say about Jews and what Israeli Jews can say about Arabs and blacks.
The Anti-Defamation League and the rest of the American Jewish establishment owe Jesse Jackson an apology. They put the man through the wringer, they made him apologize in every possible forum for his “Hymie” and “Hymietown” remarks back in 1984. Yet look at the kinds of things Israeli leaders – senior government ministers, chief rabbis – get away with without ever having to apologize, without ever being punished in the slightest.
A couple of weeks ago the economy minister, Naftali Bennett, the fresh new face of right-wing Orthodox Judaism, was saying in a cabinet meeting how he didn’t like these releases of Palestinian prisoners. “If you catch terrorists, you simply have to kill them,” he was quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth as saying. The head of the National Security Council, Yaakov Amidor, told Bennett, “Listen, that’s not legal.” Bennett replied: “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”
The media, the left and the Arabs made a big deal out of it, nobody else. Bennett defended what he said, and so did countless talkbackers and Facebookers.
Two days later the newly-elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, David Lau, was seen on a video telling an audience of yeshiva boys that they shouldn’t watch Euroleague basketball games in public; it was bad for their image. “What difference does it make,” Lau said, “if the kushim who get paid in Tel Aviv beat the kushim who get paid in Greece?” Kushim, especially when used in a dismissive context like Lau did, is a well-understood derogatory term for blacks.
Again, the media, the left, some Ethiopian Jews and presumably some African refugees were outraged, but Lau defended his words, blaming the media, saying “they made a big deal out of a joke.” Who else defended his remarks about “kushim”? Bennett: “The media are pouncing on him for a joking, insignificant remark.”
So really – what was so bad about “Hymies” and “Hymietown”? Or the thousand other anti-Semitic or even just possibly anti-Semitic remarks that the ADL and other American Jewish organizations have “pounced on” since then? Israeli public figures say the same kind of garbage, the difference is that they never, ever pay a price for it, in fact they usually manage to play the victim and get away with it, and at worst will be obliged to offer some backhanded apology.
Likud Knesset member Miri Regev is doing fine after having called Sudanese refugees “a cancer on our body” to a crowd of hopped-up south Tel Avivians in May of last year, shortly before the crowd went on a window-smashing mini-pogrom against the Africans in the neighborhood. Legendary basketball coach Pini Gershon’s career and public stature didn’t suffer at all after he explained his racial theory about blacks to a class of amused army officers in 2000. “The mocha-colored guys are smarter, but the dark colored ones are just guys off the street. They’re dumb like slaves, they do whatever you tell them,” Gershon said.
Nor was there any blowback whatsoever after Bibi Netanyahu bragged in 2007 that the cuts he’d made to child subsidies had brought a “positive” result, which he identified as “the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birth rate.” Imagine the scandal if an American political leader boasted publicly that his cuts to child subsidies had reduced the “non-Christian” birth rate. Imagine the ADL’s reaction. But in Israel, in 2007, from the mouth of a once-and-future prime minister – nothing.
These are just a few of the more appalling examples of the kind of racist remarks Israeli politicians, rabbis and celebrities are free to make; I haven’t even mentioned Avigdor Lieberman or Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. As a rule the slurs are directed at Arabs, now and then against blacks: either Ethiopian Jews, African refugees or athletes.
I’ve lived roughly half my 61 years in the United States, the other half in Israel, and there is absolutely no comparison between American tolerance for public displays of racism and Israeli tolerance for it. I’ve stood in the middle of Israeli crowds chanting “Death to the Arabs.” I’ve sat in a Tel Aviv soccer stadium watching and listening to an entire section of fans erupt in monkey sounds – “Hoo, hoo, hoo!! Hoo, hoo, hoo!! – after a black player on the visiting team scored a goal.
A few liberals and a few do-gooders and a few journalists wring their hands, but the racists in the street, the synagogues, the Knesset and the government go on doing their thing. Does this mean all Israelis, or even most of them, are racists? No. Does it mean Israeli society, by commission and omission, encourages racism? Oh, yes. To a degree that would be unthinkable in the United States.
And the leaders of the U.S. Jewish establishment, Israel’s most valued, devoted, determined friends, keep pouncing on every untoward or conceivably untoward remark about Jews or the Jewish state. Yes, the ADL will also send out the occasional press release about its “concern” over the “inappropriate” remarks made by some relatively minor Israeli figure (though never the majors; it said nothing about Bennett or Lau). But both the ADL and the Israeli powers-that-be know it’s a hollow exercise, done for appearances only. The ADL goes after anti-Semitism with a fist, it goes after Israeli racism with a sigh. It should stop with the press releases; they’re worse than nothing.
As a matter of fact, the ADL and the entire American Jewish establishment should suspend their campaigns against anti-Semitism indefinitely and take a look at what’s going on in Israel. When the Jewish state is this riddled with racism, its advocates abroad should be a little less outraged over the offenses of gentiles. A little more humble. And a whole lot less hypocritical.
A slightly abridged version of this article was published August 12 on the website of Forward.