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"Foreign" non-Jews barred from Israeli youth basketball league

An Israeli youth basketball league limits the number of non-Jewish “foreigners” who can join–excluding children who were born and raised in Israel. If a team goes over the cap, it is barred from district competition.

An empty basketball court in Israel (photo: flickr: Vadim Lavrusik)

Two Filipino boys play a one-on-one basketball game in South Tel Aviv, an area where many migrant workers and their Israel-born children live. The kids shout at each other in Hebrew as they dribble, shoot, and score. As local as they might seem, these boys are likely to be excluded from a local league due to a little-known policy that prevents many non-Jewish “foreigners” from joining basketball teams.

The rule was made by and applies to the national basketball league for seventh and eighth graders. When it was first discovered by the human rights organization Israeli Children—a group that was founded to fight Israel’s plans to deport children of migrant workers—the policy stated that only “two foreigners” were allowed on each team. But, in most cases, the kids who are excluded are not foreigners—they are children who were born and raised in Israel and who will receive citizenship when they turn 21.

After Israeli Children insisted that the cap be removed, the league tweaked the policy. Now, three “foreigners” are allowed on each team. If a team would like to have more “foreigners,” it must be made up exclusively of “foreigners.” And, if a “foreigners”-only team wins city play-offs, it is forbidden from going on to district competitions. The children must give their spot, instead, to a team that has a “local” majority.

Rotem Ilan, co-founder of Israeli Children, remarks, “It’s sad to say, but I don’t think [the policy] reflects anything different than what [the kids] hear every day on the street, what they hear from their ministers—that they shouldn’t be here, that they don’t belong here, that they’re the ‘wrong’ kind, born to the ‘wrong’ parents.”

Ilan adds that while Interior Minister Eli Yishai has taken the most flak for saying, publicly, that migrants bring diseases to Israel, a member of the Tel Aviv municipality has also remarked that migrant workers’ children and African refugees who attend local schools should have special health check-ups because they are probably ill.

And, recently, a state-funded kindergarten in South Tel Aviv announced that it will not accept “foreign” children. According to the Israeli news site Ynet, “at least two local kindergartens will be set aside to accept kids of only Israeli descent.” While Ynet reported that “the move is unprecedented in Israel,” the children of African refugees have been banned from many public schools in Eilat for several years now.

It should be noted, as well, that Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of the state have separate educational systems.

These increasingly common attitudes and policies of segregating Jews from non-Jews don’t affect only “foreign” kids. They also make an impact on Jewish Israeli youth—communicating to them powerful and dangerous messages about inclusion and exclusion and teaching them that they ought to be privileged at the expense of those marked as “others.”

Reflecting on the basketball league’s cap, Ilan comments, “It tells [Jewish Israeli kids] that the children who already got residency still don’t really belong [here]. Or, ‘you’re better than these children.’”

The basketball league’s cap on “foreigners” is noteworthy for another reason. Jewish Israelis who admit that racism is indeed a problem in the country sometimes discuss it as a top-down phenomenon—it’s the leaders and the system that are discriminatory, not the people. But, in this case, the Education Ministry actually opposes the foreigner cap. It’s the basketball league that came up with and enforces the rule.

So is it the chicken or the egg?

The father of a school-aged boy discusses how the system reinforces the separatist values many Jewish Israeli children learn, first, at home. Ray, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym and for identifying details be omitted, is British and of African descent. His wife is Jewish Israeli. When their son was just three and a half years old, a classmate in his upper middle class daycare called him an “Arab” as an insult.

On another occasion, Ray says, “the children were singing to him—in a not terribly pleasant way—a Hebrew song about a little brown child. They did it as a taunt.”

Ray is also concerned by the “febrile, patriotic air” he sees in private Jewish Israeli daycares, as well as the state-funded kindergartens and schools, where the celebration of religious and national holidays is “intertwined with a sense that Jews have been victims through the ages and now they no longer need to be victims because they have their own country and can be masters of their own destiny.”

And Ray was troubled by the fact that his son’s daycare marked Holocaust Day by teaching the children about the tragic events that befell Jews during World War II.

“It’s not my place to comment on the role of the [Holocaust] in Jewish Israeli identity,” Ray says, “but a three-year-old is way too young to begin to process the horrors of the Holocaust.”

Overall, Ray feels that the Jewish Israeli educational system is marked by a “powerful insularity” that “encourages a certain nationalistic narcissism—[the feeling] that Jewish Israelis are the center of not just theirs but every one’s world view. And it’s terribly, terribly dangerous.”

It’s the sort of thing that might mold children into adults who make rules like limiting the number of “foreigners” that can join youth basketball leagues.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Louis

      Great piece and points out the manner in which Israeli builds fracture into its key institutions… education is segregated and catalogued in so many ways and not just in ways that can be attributed to geographic realities, but by design. Secular kids cannot study with religious kids, Jewish and Palestinian kids in Israel must, as a rule, study separately… in Haredi and in some parts of ‘national religious’ Orthodox Jewish schooling boys and girls may not come in contact… with all this separation it is no wonder that there is so much friction/racism/disregard of the Other… And then hey… if you are an NGO that wants to work against it… no worries… the Government will come along and try to shut you down…
      See also this HRW item on separate education: http://www.hrw.org/news/2006/01/02/discrimination-against-palestinian-arab-children-israeli-education-system

      Reply to Comment
    2. Beppo Morona

      As sympathetic as I may be towards Ray´s son, I don´t see anything wrong in teaching young children as early as possible about the Holocaust and about Jewish history. After all, his son is Jewish, and he should start understanding what would have happened to him had he been born in occupied Germany during the Third Reich.

      Reply to Comment
    3. mya guarnieri

      beppo: yes, understanding our history is very important. but the holocaust is just one chapter in jewish history and we can’t let it be the definitive chapter. i think that’s very dangerous to build a culture based on fear and death.

      and i’m not sure that teaching three year olds about it is appropriate. further, ray has an acquaintance whose child came home from school after learning about the holocaust and was terrified of trains. kids at that age are too young to understand what happened there in europe during ww2… learning about the shoah only scares them.

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      If Israel were barred from international competition, this rule would change immediately. But the underlying racism would remain untouched.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Mitchell Cohen

      I condemn this rule with no buts….I also agree with Mya that, as important as it is to learn about the Holocaust, 3 is too young. I don’t know how old is old enough, but gan (nursery school) is definitely too young. I had nightmares when I started learning about it at age 10 (give or take)….

      Reply to Comment
    6. mya guarnieri

      mitchell: it’s interesting that you have had nightmares about the holocaust. i do, too. i wonder if this is common to a lot of jewish people, regardless of whether they grow up in israel or the diaspora?

      Reply to Comment
    7. AYLA

      ditto Mitchell on everything (we’re on a roll, Mitchell!) :). Mya, I think he said he *had* nightmares, so maybe as a child. I did too, for years and years, and I can’t imagine it makes any difference if you’re in Israel or the Diaspora. I don’t know it’s taught in Israel; is there an emphasis on connecting this to the idea that people still want to hurt you, currently? For me in the diaspora, there was not this connection, and ‘never again’ was taught in a way to apply to jews and also to all humans. I too don’t know how or when the Holocaust should be taught to children. Of course it must be taught. But Gan is insane, I think.

      Reply to Comment
    8. RichardNYC

      @MYA
      “But, in most cases, the kids who are excluded are not foreigners—they are children who were born and raised in Israel and who will receive citizenship when they turn 21.”
      –>In other words they’re foreigners. Not very professional of you to misrepresent the facts here.
      “It should be noted, as well, that Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of the state have separate educational systems.”
      –>Don’t bother mentioning why. That way everyone will assume the worst about Jewish people. Good strategy.
      “…they ought to be privileged at the expense of those marked as “others.””
      –>OH SHIT HERE COMES THE NARRATIVE INTERROGATION. YES!!!!>>>MYA YOUR ARTICLES CONTRIBUTE 50% OF MY DAILY RECOMMENDED ALLOWANCE OF POST-MODERN B*LLSHIT!!
      “On another occasion, Ray says, “the children were singing to him—in a not terribly pleasant way—a Hebrew song about a little brown child. They did it as a taunt.””
      –>How come nobody came my middle school and wrote an article about how the hispanic kids were racist against the black kids, the black kids against the white kids, and the white kids against everyone??!! Mya can you write a piece about my middle school please? I think we can both agree that this kind of thing should get international attention wherever it happens.

      Reply to Comment
    9. aristeides

      Only in Israel can a person born and raised in a county and eligible for citizenship be considered a “foreigner.” In what respect, exactly, are these children “foreign?”

      Unless, of course, “foreign” just means “not Jews.”

      Reply to Comment
    10. Carl

      Mya, it’s common to anyone with half a teaspoon of empathy for the human race. If you’ve lost family members in the Holocaust then I’m sure it’d plague your dreams more than others. But unless you can inherit dreams from your mother or catch them at the synagogue, I doubt it’s a result of just being Jewish. I’d challenge anyone with any empathy to read Jean Amery and sleep easy in the future.

      RichardNYC: do you buy books and music you hate just so as you can go and fulminate on the reviews section of Amazon? Only I’m really struggling to work out what brings you to this site. Really kid, go spend some time at the comments section of Ynet or JPost. You’ll actually enjoy it and people will agree with you. And if you need any tips about whether to go on holiday to somewhere you hate this year, just ask, though the answer’s no … .. .

      Reply to Comment
    11. ToivoS

      The incredible racism at the core of Israeli culture and institutions is very difficult for someone from the US to really accept. I was one who was raised with the myth of Israel as the only democracy in the ME and the most compassionate nation surrounded by savages. This racist aspect of Israeli society is not widely known in the US.

      Mya wonders why this quota on non-Jewish citizens was instituted locally. I can offer a conjecture. In the 1950′s many basketball programs in the US restricted black participation. There was a very real fear that if fully integrated basketball would be dominated by black athletes, as subsequently happened. Local Israelis must obviously fear the prospect of these “foreigners” becoming the stars of the sport.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Bosko

      “Only I’m really struggling to work out what brings you to this site. Really kid”
      .
      Hey, that goes the other way around too. He is here and he criticises what the majority of the people say on this site. So do I. And you guys criticise just about everything that Israeli governments do or don’t do. Not just Netanyahu’ government but other Israeligovernments before him.
      .
      Hey Carl, we are all critics. Get over it.

      Reply to Comment
    13. RichardNYC

      @TOIVOS
      “The incredible racism at the core of Israeli culture and institutions is very difficult for someone from the US to really accept.”
      –>Even spending time with settlers, I found Israeli racism to pale in comparison to the racism I experienced growing up in a “progressive” American city.

      Reply to Comment
    14. RichardNYC

      @CARL
      Its always encouraging when people who disagree with me have nothing of substance to say in response to my comments. Thank you for validating me with your condescending personal remarks.

      Reply to Comment
    15. aristeides

      I see that RNYC showed up and made no attempt to define “foreign.”

      Reply to Comment
    16. ToivoS

      “Even spending time with settlers, I found Israeli racism to pale in comparison to the racism I experienced growing up in a “progressive” American city.”

      Well, very interesting. I didn’t know you were black.

      Reply to Comment
    17. aristeides

      Tovio – I think RNYC is a pseudonym for Alvy Singer.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Lelaina

      @ Richardnyc “Even spending time with settlers, I found Israeli racism to pale in comparison to the racism I experienced growing up in a “progressive” American city.”
      I can’t imagine you spent too much time in Israel then and never on the receiving end of the racist winds that blow so freely over this country. I’ve always found it fascinating that those who do not live in Israel always seem to know exactly what it’s like..

      Reply to Comment
    19. RichardNYC

      @LELAINA
      How much time have you spent in America? Do you know how racist America is? Because I was drawing a comparison. Growing up in a diverse city and going to diverse schools, I got used to a level of racial hostility between young adults that Israel does not touch.

      Reply to Comment
    20. aristeides

      Ah, here’s RacistNYC posting again in this thread. When will he get around to addressing the definition of a “foreigner” in Israel? RNYC charges Mya with “misrepresenting the facts” but refuses to back up his charge.

      Reply to Comment
    21. AYLA

      Aristteides, Carl, Toivos–:) :) :)

      Reply to Comment
    22. AYLA

      RichardNYC–I lived in New York City for ten years, and have lived in Israel for four. I cannot imagine what kind of life you lead that brings you to your conclusions; I can only imagine that you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, sticking to preconceived ideas with which you are already comfortable.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Shoded Yam

      “…that you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, sticking to preconceived ideas with which you are already comfortable.”
      .
      Who isn’t these days? :-D I for one, came here under the delusion that orthodox jews play violins on the roof and like to dance in a circle and arabs came out of magic lanterns and flew around on carpets all day. ;-) Who knew that tevya branched out into child molestation and theo-fascism while mohammed developed a taste for cultural recidivism and rejectionist politics? I think I liked them better the other way. :-D

      Reply to Comment
    24. RichardNYC

      @AYLA
      “I cannot imagine what kind of life you lead that brings you to your conclusions”
      Living in a part of America that has a lot of racism (I am not referring to New York City). Are you done with the personal attacks yet? Wanna send out more props to ARISTEIDES, the fake anti-racist who makes anti-semitic jokes about Woody Allen?

      Reply to Comment
    25. aristeides

      “When you have no case, make personal attacks on the opponent.”

      I see that RNYC has no case to make in support of his ridiculous assertion about Mya “misrepresenting the facts” about foreigners so he continues the personal attacks that are his only contribution to the discussion.

      .
      Oh, and it was Woody Allen making the jokes about ridiculous paranoid characters who see antisemitism where none exists. Jokes about characters like Mr NYC here. He’s a comedian, Woody Allen. Like you are a racist.

      Reply to Comment
    26. RichardNYC

      @ARISTEIDES
      Oh yeah?? oh yeahh?? Well you’re racister maaaan. I didn’t write anything on this thread about antisemitism so maybe be more careful deploying the paranoid Jew straw man argument next time.

      Reply to Comment
    27. aristeides

      Maybe RNYC should be more careful deploying charges he can’t back up.

      Reply to Comment
    28. RichardNYC

      @ARISTEIDES
      foreign = not a citizen. Like many other countries, Israel does not confer citizenship on everyone born domestically. Now that you’ve worn the meaning of “racism” down a featureless nub, have a go at “foreign” and “citizen.” The English language has too many words anyway.

      Reply to Comment
    29. aristeides

      Ah, look what shows up! Let me point out Mya’s description of the children in question: “—they are children who were born and raised in Israel and ***who will receive citizenship when they turn 21.***”

      .
      Is Mya wrong? Are these children not eligible to be citizens? If they are, they can hardly be called “foreigners,” can they?

      .
      Or would there be some other factor at work? A factor beginning with the letter R?

      Reply to Comment
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