Remarks by the most outlandish Republican candidates represent, in the best case scenario, the more moderate positions of Israel’s prime ministers since the state’s founding.
By Abed Abu Shehada
Let’s imagine for a second that Donald Trump gets up on stage at a rally and demands that maternity wards across the U.S. begin segregating black and white women, justifying his demand through stereotypes: blacks love throwing loud post-birth parties, whereas white women are more simply more cultured prefer to rest after giving birth. His remarks would surely be widely condemned. In fact, I doubt that Trump himself is stupid or racist enough to say such things.
But in Israeli politics, racism espoused by members of the government are part of the view, and pro-democracy activists find ourselves writing opinion pieces on why remarks like those by Betzalel Smotrich (“It is natural for my wife to not want to lie next to somebody who just gave birth to a baby that might want to murder her baby in 20 years. That’s the most natural, normal thing in the world”) are unacceptable, explaining why they are so problematic to the Israeli public.
When looking at the election campaign in the United States, it is not a stretch to say that remarks by the most outlandish Republican candidates represent, in the best case scenario, the more moderate positions of Israel’s prime ministers since the state’s founding.
Two weeks ago I met with activists from the Black Lives Matter movement. I expressed my positions as an activist with the Balad party about solutions to the situation in Israel and our struggle for a society based on civic equality — a state that respects its citizens and sees them as equals. I told them that Balad is widely hated and viewed as a radical group in Israel. They looked at me in shock, grasping to understand what could be possibly be radical about what I had just said. In their eyes, equality was obvious. Anyone who goes against this worldview goes against the liberal worldview. It was clear to these activists that one cannot speak about democracy when a Jewish majority sanctifies a fundamentally racist worldview, according to which Jews are granted privileges due to their Jewishness.
In order to understand how the democratic discourse lags behind the rest of the world, one can compare the actions of Israel’s leaders to the absurd remarks by the current Republican candidates. While the American people and the rest of the world were shocked by Trump’s proposal to build a separation wall between the U.S. and Mexico, in Israel the very same idea was first proposed in 1991 by the vaunted leader of the Left, Yitzhak Rabin. The Israeli public viewed it as natural and legitimate, and suffice it to say the idea met very little resistance from either side of the political spectrum.
When Republican candidate Ted Cruz announced that he would make sure that the government spies on American Muslims, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton condemned Cruz’s proposal, defending the nearly 1,000 Muslim police officers, many of them combat veterans, who serve the city. In Israel, on the other hand, it is legitimate for Israeli security forces to spy on Arab citizens. In the case of Israel’s Bedouin community, it is completely legitimate to send them to their death in the name of the Jewish majority, and then destroy their homes in the Negev’s unrecognized villages.
Do not be fooled into thinking that the ire of Israeli leaders is pointed solely at Palestinians. If we compare Trump’s comments about asylum seekers from Latin America to the actions of the Israeli government vis-a-vis African asylum seekers, we will see an identical worldview — one based on the utter dehumanization of refugees from the Third World, the contradiction of liberal principles, and the total failure to see them as victims. I would not be surprised if Culture Minister Miri Regev was behind Trump’s infamous speech, in which he labeled Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists.”
Even Trump’s comments against African-Americans match the reality in this country, especially when looking at the state’s treatment of its Ethiopian citizens: from forced sterilization of Ethiopian women to the death of Yosef Salamsa at the hands of Israeli police.
There is one important distinction to make when comparing the current leaders of the GOP and Israel’s leadership across the years. Remarks made by the Republican candidates are for the purpose of electioneering. Israeli leaders, on the other hand, establish their policy in the shadow of a racist worldview. Ideas proposed by the likes of Avigdor Liberman, Naftali Bennett, and Ayelet Shaked are too extreme even for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Don’t get me wrong — the U.S. is far from being an ideal democracy, and there is no minimizing the injustices committed against its minorities or other countries. But in America we do see a liberal discourse that challenges the government and fights for a more equal society. The opposite is true in Israel: public discourse, which is violent and destructive, is interested in getting rid of any sign of equality or human rights.
Imagine for a second what would happen if any of these Republican candidates is elected. The answer is simple: it will turn into Israel — violent, racist, and hateful of its minorities — only a much larger scale.
Abed Abu Shehada is an activist with the Balad party and a student at The Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.