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Israeli racism and American Jewish hypocrisy

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.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. You don’t let up, Larry.

      I recall a 972 post on a hasbara campaign of El Al, where pilots and flight attendants in lay over would offer their services as speakers to interested groups. The post had a commercial explaining the program, produced by El Al. In it, a young women employee speaking to a group says something like “Israel is like here, very pure.”

      When people are exposed to violence multi-generationally in what amounts to a slow motion war of many fronts, I cannot but expect group identity mechanisms to employ talk of subordination and inferiority. In this sense the reported Bennett comment reflects the impetus behind many of the INTERNAL racial comments you note. What you detail is a symptom of mental war, taking casualties on many kinds of front.

      I recall, when quite young, watching a debate between Soviets and Americans on international cooperation. One American said something that has stayed with me: “We have put WW II (the Soviet ‘Great Patriotic War’) behind us; you have not.” Thinking of the rehabilitation of West Germany and Japan, that struck me as true. There must be a sense of “that past is remembered but behind us.” Israel is not there yet. I’m sure this will provide fodder for comments, but I cannot surpass you in that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        Even if that is true, Greg, what the hell has it got to do with making monkey noises at black athletes and calling them Kushim? I remember walking down the street a few years with an Ethiopian friend and some guy stuck his head out of the car window as he drove past, and screamed “Kushi!” – What the hell is that? Mental war?

        Reply to Comment
        • Slurs were constant in Jim Crow and early Civil Rights American South. It took active desegregation to alter that, over more than a decade. Of course, they are still out there; there is just much more push back.

          In Israel, racial warfare seems so common that extending slurs elsewhere is without cost. When your Court does act to enhance equal protection, it may be weakly enforced or almost ignored. Summed, there is not much social cost to being a bigot, with likely minor payoffs in group solidarity or just sadism.

          Germans were treated badly in the US in both World Wars. If your Courts are unwilling to affirm equal protection of its citizens, this background war logic cannot but expand; you see it as well in the generalization of “infiltrator” to asylum issues, camp and all. But the “war council” nature of Israeli politics–circling the State for its protection as it protects you–makes it quite difficult for Justices to stand against exclusionary measures which have become almost zero sum in perceived effect: if you are enhanced, I will be harmed. The same logic was used in the American South; but the Southern economy actually took off after desegregation.

          You’ve lived in a war world a long time. Of course it has influenced world views there. Why else would a Court order from the 50′s mandating the return of Arab citizens to their village STILL be ignored? Racism has become an internal life tool, and some people will be worse off if you take it away.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Engelbert Luitsz

      Good point, Larry.

      It’s not limited to Israel. The Dutch Jewish writer Leon de Winter held a speech last year in which he said: “Maybe we should, secretly, add an anticonception agent to the freshwater in Gaza”. Like Benny Morris, he regrets that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job apparantly.
      The audience consisted of the crème de la crème of Dutch zionist Jewry, who laughed and applauded. The Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands, Hiam Devon, was among them.

      In 1891 Ahad Ha’am was appalled that the Jewish settlers referred to the Arabs as donkeys or camels. Since then they have been called crocodiles, roaches and what not by prominent Israeli Jews. But you can’t critisize even the worst excesses of political zionism without being called an antisemite.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron Gross

      Speaking of double standards, how often does +972 complain when Arabs within the 972 zone use similar derogatory language against Jews?

      You’re right that Jewish-Americans are hypocrites, not just on ethnic slurs but on lots else regarding Israel and America. While I’m not defending some of the racial slurs quoted here, I do wish American Jews were more like Israelis on these issues than vice versa.

      Reply to Comment
    4. XYZ

      Oh, please, enough with the hypocrisy. I hear “progressives” and Leftists like Larry make racist comments ALL THE TIME. I think most people do it, but that doesn’t mean that they really think the people or groups they are commenting on should be treated as inferiors. When I hear Bennet’s comment, I understand it as referring to Arab terrorists.
      Larry, go listen to what Arabs say. I know an Israeli who had an Arab from the West Bank working at his house and you wouldn’t believe what he said about Gaza Arabs and HAMAS. We know how the official Palestinian Authority honors and praises Arabs who butchered Israeli children. So it is time for “progressives” to get off their high horse.

      And for the record, I think American Jews are too sensitive and should not get all agitated about comments like “Hymietown” which I don’t view as offensive.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        Larry makes racist statements all the time? Do tell! Seriously, when has he ever said something racist, and since you say it’s all the time, what are several instances of this accusation you’re throwing around?

        Hymietown is very offensive, btw.

        Reply to Comment
        • Shira

          This is the same Larry Derfner who supported and defended Greta Berlin’ gutter antisemitism. Folks familiar with her private Facebook group know how nasty that page was. Larry defended her Nazi crap regardless.

          Reply to Comment
          • You are a vicious liar, Shira. In my two posts on Greta Berlin, I defended her against the charge of anti-Semitism based on those tweets of hers that had been publicized, and which were the focus of the accusations against her – not on the basis of her private FB page, which I’d seen only short, innocuous passages from. But that shouldn’t stop a devoted slanderer like yourself.

            Reply to Comment
          • Michael W.

            After a short review of what Derfner and +972 wrote on Greta between Oct. 5th and Oct. 7th, I believe Derfner had a case of “low expectations” because of his biases for the Free Gaza movement.

            Reply to Comment
          • Shira, you accused me of defending her “gutter anti-Semitism” and “Nazi crap,” which, once again, was a vicious lie.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      Humanizing the other is the name of the game, the difference between a fascist state and a responsive democratic one.

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      I did not express myself very well if I implied that Larry himself makes racist comments, but I stand by what I said that I hear racist comments from “Progressives” and Lefists probably no less than I do from the political Right on a day to day basis.
      Another thing I notice is from the “progressives” who identify themselves as being “Arab Jews” or specifying they are from the “Edot HaMizrach”. They seem absolutely obsessed with race and ethnicity, measuring how many Edot HaMizrach are going to appear in a list of Israeli poets, or how many are professors or how many appear on the Knesset list of a political party.
      Finally, there is the subtle racism we hear all the time from the “progressives” regarding the Arabs, and holding them to lower standards than everyone else. For example, we all the time hear complaints about Israel defining itself as a Jewish state. It has been pointed out that the Arab states and the Palestinians define themselves as “Arab” states (e.g. the official name of Egypt is the “Arab Republic of Egypt”) and they all give Islam a status of state religion to a greater or lesser degree yet I never hear any complaints about that from the “progressives”. Add to that the fact that Pakistan was created specifically to be a Muslim state and that created something like 10 million refugees and a million dead. No complaints about that and the American support for that country. This is due to the subtle view that these people are “primitive” and can’t be held to our high standards. Racism, if I ever heard it.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Vadim

      To call someone a kushi, a niger, a kyke or whatever is not racist. It’s just a profanity, used to insult. I’ve been called “Rusi” severak times (on this site as well, someone said that my comment is “Russian Shtuyot”) and only rarely did I think it came from a racist point of view. It was mostly followed and preceded by a general discussion of the career choices my mother has supposedly made.

      Anyway, you’re missing the REAL racism. Ever heard yourself (or anyone else) say – Arabs were provoked into throwing stones? That violence is expected to erupt if negotiations fail\Jews come to the Temple mount\Jews move into an Arab neighborhood? That’s racism. The thought that Arabs are like a force of nature.

      To think that releasing hundreds of terrorists for Shalit is OK – that’s racism.

      The thought that Abu Mazen’s demand to release murderers is legitimate because “it will straighten him” is racist. It assumes that’s OK for a society to honor cold blooded murders *for their murder*, because they are Arabs. They are not honored for their contribution to the struggle. They are honored because they have killed Jews.

      To deny the Holocaust because it’s a Jewish invention – that’s racism.

      To ignore violence against Jews by Arabs or by infiltrators living in TA, but to scream and fume whenever a kid that was throwing stones at soldiers gets pushed by a soldier.

      To judge Israel by different standards and discuss its worthiness and ignore other countries – that’s racism.

      I’m not even talking about the racism found in movies, TV shows, preaches and speeches.

      What do you have against this? A couple of Kushis? A quote from Bennet when it’s absolutely plain he was referring to terrorists? A stupid choice of words by Regev which has nothing to do with the Sudanese themselves (I mean that they are not treated differently than Chinese or Thai workers would have been treated given the same behavior)

      Reply to Comment
      • Engelbert Luitsz

        Yeah, confirmation bias is a powerful trick of the mind.

        Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        Good points. And then there’s the racism of treating Zionists like toddlers by saying they ethnically cleansed Palestine because the Arabs made them do it. They made the decision to create a Jewish state, went to the trouble of organizing colonies and allying themselves with the British, and when the British were gone, used violence to make themselves the majority demographic of Palestine. To say the Holocaust or the Arabs forced them to commit the nakba, as opposed to a political aim, is racist (against them).

        Reply to Comment
      • JG

        You know that your racism definitions are more of the insane kind, do you? While you thinking nigger or kushi is no racism….
        Grow a brain.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Nick

      Larry Defner’s heart seems to be in the right place, but he undermines his argument with all-or-nothing thinking. Why can’t we focus our energies on challinging anti-semitism AND racisim at the same time. He also demands that Jews take on Israeli racisim, but then denigrates those who do in dismissive terms (“A few liberals and a few do-gooders and a few journalists wring their hands.”) You can’t have it both ways. If the request is for action, action is required from all of us and those who take it shouldn’t be dismissed because of those who don’t.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Miron Amusia

      Mr. Derfner,
      It is my misfortune to read your articles, since they all are literally stuffed with blatant lie. In so many places you entirely substitute facts by biased judgments. As to the judgments, they deserve separate remarks. For instance, what is wrong with Bennet’s statement that serial murderers have to be sentenced to death? In many states capital punishment exists. If you love terrorists, it is your private business, but why Israel should release murderers under pressure of your and alike desire? You can even join terrorists – it is your private business. But a murderer, who killed intentionally innocent people, should be sentenced to death and executed. Only people like you save the evil. Shame on those, who help terrorists intentionally or as useful idiots. Without any respect, Miron Ya Amusia, professor of physics.

      Reply to Comment
      • JG

        And you should better have taken some classes in humanism than physics….

        Reply to Comment
    10. rick chertoff

      Miron likes facts. Ok,fact: over 24,000 civilian Palestinian homes have been destroyed by the Israeli gov’t. since 1967, less than 5% of which were even alleged to have been for security related reasons. That constitues a breach of the 4th Geneva Convention on Human Rights and is a blatant war crime.
      If you need more “facts” about the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israel simply consult many internationally verified sources such as B’tselem and Human Rights Watch, ad nauseum. Facts? you must be looking for something else real hard.

      Reply to Comment
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