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'Don’t you even dare to think about a Jewess': An assault on tolerance education

Anti-miscegenation stickers plastered all over a mixed school are simply another manifestation of the state’s incessant attempt to police the borders of the dominant ethnic group so as to guarantee its purity.

By Neve Gordon and Catherine Rottenberg

This article was first published in The Nation on June 6, 2014.

Hagar children from different grades participating in the annual human rights march in Tel Aviv last year. (Courtesy: Hagar Association)

Hagar children from different grades participating in the annual human rights march in Tel Aviv last year. (Courtesy: Hagar Association)

They came at night. When the principal arrived in the morning to open the school, there were scores of stickers covering the outside walls, the main entrance and the surrounding fence. The stickers, like the school’s motto, were bilingual, in Hebrew and in Arabic. In Hebrew they read, “Don’t you even dare to think about a Jewess,” while in Arabic the warning was slightly different: “Don’t you dare touch a Jewess.” Under the threats there was also a phone number for people who wish to “report incidents of assimilation and provide donations.”

The school where the warning was posted is called Hagar, or Hajjar in Arabic, and is one of only five non-segregated Jewish-Arab schools in Israel. Out of a total population of 2 million K-12 schoolchildren, approximately 1,300 study in such non-segregated schools.

A sticker, identical to the ones plastered all over the Hagar school, is seen on an electrical post in Jerusalem. (Photo: Michael Omer-Man)

A sticker, identical to the ones plastered all over the Hagar school, is seen on an electrical post in Jerusalem. (Photo: Michael Omer-Man)

Moreover, Hagar is the only non-segregated daycare and school in the Negev, in the south of Israel, which is home to more than 600,000 people, a third of whom are Palestinian citizens of Israel. Hagar’s uniqueness stems from the fact that it has created a space in which Jewish and Palestinian children not only encounter one another on a daily basis (each ethnic group makes up 50 percent of the student body) but learn together in a bilingual atmosphere of mutual respect. To ensure that Hebrew and Arabic are awarded equal status, two teachers, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, are present in every classroom. The Jewish teacher speaks in Hebrew and the Palestinian teacher speaks in Arabic.

But language is only one aspect of our pedagogical endeavor. Within this bilingual space Hagar encourages direct contact with the heritage, customs and historical narrative of both ethnic groups. The teachers promote tolerance, even as they nurture the personal identity of each child and each tradition. By the age of two, children in the daycare are already celebrating the holidays of the three monotheistic religions as well as marking the national memorial days of both cultures.

On Israeli Independence Day, for example, Hagar emphasizes the notion of independence and its relation to responsibility. We still remember how our older son, who was three years old at the time, returned home after Independence Day proudly notifying us that he could put on clothes by himself. He was, he said, independent.

On Nakba Day and Holocaust Day, the kindergarten emphasizes the idea of loss and suffering and accentuates the importance of empathy, and that every one of us has experienced some kind of injury and grief. And from the religious holidays we try to glean their universal message, such as the liberation from slavery commemorated during Passover. The idea is that by the time the children are old enough to learn that there are two conflicting national narratives, both of which are taught in the upper grades, they already have the necessary emotional and intellectual tools to deal with conflict through dialogue.

Although in the United States this kind of multicultural educational project is often embraced and even celebrated, in Israel it is usually actively discouraged. Considering that the anti-miscegenation discourse in Israel today is reminiscent of the discourse of the Jim Crow South, it is not really surprising that an educational project that encourages tolerance and empathy has become the site of such hate crimes. In an echo of white opposition to integration of schools in the American South in the 1950s and ’60s, most Jews in Israel consider our educational project to be extremely threatening because it defies the ethnic division underpinning the Zionist project.

Indeed, the anti-miscegenation stickers are simply another manifestation of the state’s incessant attempt to police the borders of the dominant ethnic group so as to guarantee its purity. Currently the oldest children in our school are only 11, but their intermingling is considered a threat by many Israelis. And this needs to be taken seriously—in May, four Jews were indicted for brutally beating Palestinians who they thought were interested in dating Jewish women.

In a totally different context, the Jewish reform movement in the United States has been grappling with similar issues. Looking at the levels of Jewish assimilation, the leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, has reacted in a bold way. He called for an “audacious hospitality” to welcome intermarried couples and others into the Jewish community. “I still hear Jewish leaders talk about intermarriage as if it were a disease,” Jacobs said, adding, “It is not.” Jacobs asks Jews in the United States to look forward to the future and to counter prevalent atavistic proclivities by addressing the question of how to engage with difference head-on.

In Israel, the stakes are considered to be even higher, and therefore the opposition is more dangerous. A bond between a Jew and a Palestinian (who is framed as the enemy) is conceived as a threat not only to the community but also to the state itself. For us, as parents and as part of the group that founded Hagar seven years ago, this latest evidence of hatred has served as an alarming reminder of how this wonderful educational project continues to stand on precarious ground.

When we talked to our son, now nine, about what happened, he responded by turning the table and telling us not to worry. “The community,” he said, “will just come out stronger by having to deal with this.” Although we are less sure than he is about the prospects for the future, we have decided to try to adopt his optimism because he, too, is part of that unknowable future.

Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation (2008) and recently completed, with Nicola Perugini, The Human Right to Dominate. Catherine Rottenberg, head of gender studies at Ben-Gurion University, most recently edited Black Harlem and the Jewish Lower East Side. This article was first published in The Nation on June 5, 2014, and is republished here with the authors’ permission.

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    1. humbye

      Actually, the translation is incorrect, since the original Arabic is incorrectly conjugated.

      What it actually says is: “Let’s not think about touching a Jewish young woman.” But I doubt that was the original intention of the message.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Dazed and Confused

      Let’s analyze the situation:

      On the one hand, Neve Gordon’s boys just attacked the airport in Pakistan. In Mohammed’s name, the “Palestinian” people systematically slaughtered dozens and sent Pakistan’s economy into a tailspin. Because of what the global Left perpetrated this morning, hundreds of millions will now be subject to more search and discrimination at airports.

      On the other hand, some of your Jewish enemies put up a sticker you don’t like.

      Rather than condemning her own Leftist people for their extreme war crimes this morning, Neve Gordon and the German Green Party think its more important to condemn their Jewish enemy for some stickers.

      Interesting values, you Leftists have!

      Still waiting for 972mag to write even one word of condemnation of what the “Palestinian” people did this week. (In the past week the global Left slaughtered dozens in Iraq; the “Palestinian” people killed about a thousand innocents in Syria; and just last night Social Justice activist types perpetrated an unimaginably wicked war crime in in Pakistan). Not one word of condemnation by Neve Gordon for what her people have done.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        Neve Gordon’s boys in Pakistan? What are you talking about. Has Zionism made you crazy? It certainly sounds like it and your name is correct. You are dazed and confused. Better get back on your meds.

        Reply to Comment
        • Dazed and Confused

          Neve Gordon is allied with the Ummah. That makes her and the German Green Party FULLY responsible for every action by their allies on the pro-“Palestinian” Left.

          The attack on the Jinnah International Airport was committed by the Social Justice Left in the name of liberating “Palestine”. Yes – Neve Gordon bears full moral responsibility for what her boys have done.

          Why don’t you read up about what happened in Iraq. According to the Lancet, the “Palestinian” Left killed more than half-a-million innocents.

          Neve Gordon is not responsible for what her Jewish enemy does. But the Israeli Left does bear full moral responsibility for what the pro-“Palestinian” community does. That includes the “Palestinian” death camps in North Korea, the genocide taking place in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere; and, yes, the pro-“Palestinian” attack in Karachi yesterday.

          Instead, the German Green Party is obsessed with stickers and graffiti.

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            Too Dazed and Confused to Google?

            The one you say is allied with Ummah may be a she, it’s true, I’ve never come across her. On the other hand she might just be somebody’s Umm. Could you pick yourself up from the floor for a sec and provide a link to her?

            Reply to Comment
          • Dazed and Confused

            Stop being so cisnormative, you bigot.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jan

            Your are just crazy. Are Israel supporting Jews responsible for what every Israel supporting Jews does? Are Israeli supporters responsible for what a Jewish lawbreaker does anywhere in the world?

            You are just plain crazy.

            BTW, if you weren’t so off your rocker you could have easily found out that Neve Gordon is not a “she” but a “he.” But truth and facts mean nothing to your dazed, confused and shrunken pea brain.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Jan, don’t feed the troll. He’s looking for a reaction from you, so just ignore this guy (and others like him) and they’ll eventually get bored and go away. No sense in arguing with a troll.

            Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        Dazed and Confused is sufficiently lucid to describe herself correctly. The she proves that this is indeed the case. It would be futile to request an explanation how Pakistani Taliban is part of the Left? Do they demand progressive taxation, or socialized medicine, or gender equality? However, my modest request is that she check the gender of Neve Gordon. Wiki in the second sentence: “A third-generation Israeli, Gordon did his military service in an IDF Paratrooper unit, and suffered severe injuries in action at Rosh Hanikra, as a result of which he has a 42 percent disability. “

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ed

      I don’t think the word ‘Jewess’ has been used much in English since the second world war, and the Arabic does indeed say ‘Jewish girl’ … (and the Arabic grammar is wrong as Humbye already said.)

      Reply to Comment
    4. ronit

      nice article but the subtitle and its source in the text are incorrect. “Indeed, the anti-miscegenation stickers are simply another manifestation of the state’s incessant attempt to police the borders of the dominant ethnic group so as to guarantee its purity.” the stickers aren’t issued by the state. they’re from an orthodox anti-assimilation non-profit organization.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        Does it mean that the State views that activity, prevention of “fraternization between Jews and Arabs” as “public good”?

        I think that this is indeed the case. Minister Bennet issued a regulation that Jewish female participants in the National service and who work in hospitals should not be given night shifts BECAUSE of prevalence of Arab doctors on those shifts.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Dave

      They should just tell them that old joke that I used to hear from dad; “You know why Jewish guys die before their wives? Because they want to” lol

      Reply to Comment
    6. Danny

      Nice to see there is some semblance of sanity in Israel, an island in a sea of hate. Unfortunately, I think this type of school is so far on the margins, and its message of co-existence so rejected by the Israeli rabble (by my estimates at least 75% of Israelis would not send their kids to this school purely on ideological grounds), that I am not optimistic that any change towards national co-existence is on the horizon. Sadly, I believe the only way forward for Israel is through outside pressure in the form of sustained BDS campaigns.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Just out of curiosity – when you say Israelis, do you mean Israeli Arabs as well?

        Reply to Comment
    7. Rab

      Jim Crow?

      The state has something to do with these posters?

      Negev Bedouin are now “Palestinians?”

      Not a very serious article.

      Reply to Comment