As long as our recognition of racial supremacy begins and ends with enraged men beating up people of color, leftists, and anyone else they see as a target, we will never approach the reckoning needed to effect meaningful change — neither in Charlottesville nor in Tel Aviv.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — Three years ago, on a broiling July night, a group of friends and I were sitting outside a cafe in an upscale Tel Aviv neighborhood, trying to ignore the “death to Arabs” chants coming from the square opposite us. It was the middle of the Gaza war, and we had just come from an anti-war protest at a nearby plaza. We’d left quickly as it was winding down; groups of young men had started filtering in, scanning the depleting crowds, their necks taut. It was one of numerous protests at which members of Israel’s far right had assaulted leftists during that never-ending, bloody summer.
The hundred or so far-right counter-demonstrators who had amassed in the square opposite the cafe soon began marching through the city, singing and waving Israeli flags. Quiet returned, and the square again assumed the outward appearance of normality. It’s an ordinary space: benches, a children’s swing set, trees, manicured hedges. Boutique coffee shops line its perimeter. It perfectly encapsulates the Tel Aviv “bubble”—that criticism leveled at a city whose residents are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have little understanding of the violence that stalks much of Israel-Palestine, or if they do, to at least have the luxury of being largely removed from it.
And yet that square, at least in my mind, would never look quite the same. I used to pass by it on a weekly basis, right up until I left Israel-Palestine in late 2016. And though it was only ever populated by young families and solitary readers, that group of braying young men—jumping up and down, screaming racist epithets—was always there. Winter and summer, rain and shine, night and day, they lurked: an atmospheric disturbance, like looking at the horizon through heat haze. I would walk through the square or sit in it in silence, and hear “death to Arabs” every time.
After I left the country those memories retreated, although they didn’t disappear. They were, or so I had thought, tightly attached to that physical space. But here in Charlottesville, where I moved just a few months ago, those apparitions have...Read More