Despite protest rallies, media condemnation and an Oscar-winning film about the Tel Aviv school many of them attend, the Minister of Interior continues to insist that he will deport several hundred children born in Israel to foreign workers. At a recent demonstration to protest the pending deportation order, the author interviewed counter-demonstrators who wanted the children expelled for what they claimed were religiously-sanctioned reasons
By David Sheen
If progressive people want to affect public policy, it is not enough to listen to the pronouncements of conservative politicians and prepare talking points that refute their arguments. You must engage in dialogue with people on the street, the average Joe or Jane who votes the right wing into power, to understand what motivates them.
Take the case of the children of non-Jewish people of color that have migrated to Israel in the last several years. Interior Minister Eli Yishai has decided to deport them, and in order to shore up support for this decision, he has stated that these people are ‘polluting‘ the country, responsible for bringing in drugs and diseases.
The logical liberal believes that by exposing the truth about these immigrants — even Israeli police statistics prove that the crime rates in their communities are lower even than the national average, not higher, as the haters claim — they will succeed in convincing the average Yossi or Hanna to not support the deportation.
But people got it twisted. It is not the case that Yishai is convincing Jewish Israelis that non-Jews are inherently evil and inferior. Of course, it is absolutely abhorrent that a government minister makes these claims — but he is in sync with his constituency, a large section of the Jewish population, maybe even the majority.
This past Friday, left-wing Israeli Jews held a rally in a public park in central Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the non-Jewish children slated for deportation. Several dozen right-wing Israeli Jews countered-rallied, demanding that these kids — and all other non-Jewish people of color in this country — be deported immediately.
In interviews with some of these people, a very scary vision of Israel emerges. According to this narrative, by advocating for democracy and human rights, left-wing Jews are traitors to the Torah, which advocates Jewish supremacy. For them, it is not enough to expel the non-Jews; their Jewish collaborators must be expelled as well.
It is widely known that many fundamentalist Christians in the U.S.A. believe that their god will soon come to earth and kill all non-believers. But it is largely unknown that many fundamentalist Jews believe this, too. Not only do they want the country to be devoid of all non-Jews, but they even believe that non-Jews deserve the death penalty.
It is wonderful that the film Strangers No More — about a Tel Aviv school that happily accepts non-Jewish children — won an Academy Award last week. But that story is just the exception to the rule that proves the rule: that the government of Israel, and many of the Jewish people of Israel, want them all gone, as soon as possible.
Fundamentally, at issue is the “Jewish and democratic” character of the state. When “Jewish” and “democratic” come into conflict — as they must — many Jewish Israelis fiercely believe that “Jewish” must prevail. Until the Israeli left addresses these ideological underpinnings, its struggle against the symptoms of Judeo-supremacy will be Sisyphean.
David Sheen is a documentarian and designer who lives in Tel Aviv and reports on converging catastrophes and ecological responses in Israel and around the world. His website is www.davidsheen.com