+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Netanyahu on how his old U.S. high school ‘changed’

More evidence that his racism doesn’t stop at Arabs.

I’ve never written about a particular comment Bibi Netanyahu made when I interviewed him in the summer of 1993, because as objective evidence of anti-black racism, it’s not exactly slam-dunk.

But this weekend Netanyahu accused Israel’s friendliest, most unthreatening Arab public figure, broadcaster-turned-candidate Zohair Bahloul, of “praising Hezbollah” in a court testimony. What Bahloul actually said was the exact opposite. For Netanyahu this was a personal low in terms of anti-Arab racism, which takes some effort. And recently I saw a Washington Post account of the blatant anti-Hispanic racism Netanyahu showed in a 2002 speech to white Texans, which was perfectly in line with the anti-Hispanic attitudes he expressed in his 1993 book “A Place Among the Nations – Israel and the World.”

So even if the evidence I’ve gathered of Netanyahu’s anti-black racism is not conclusive, not undeniable, it was a tell-tale sign as far as I’m concerned. And between his documented disdain for Hispanics and his ever-deepening contempt for Arabs, Netanyahu is coming into focus not just as an Israeli Jewish hater of Arabs, but as an old-fashioned white bigot. So I want to put that comment he made to me in early summer 1993 on the record.

Netanyahu had just been elected leader of the Likud, and I was doing a magazine profile of him. The interview, conducted in English, took place in his Jerusalem office. Before we started, we made small talk, and I mentioned the high school he’d gone to, Cheltenham High, just outside Philadelphia. He said it had been a very good school when he was there in the mid-60s. Then, with a conspiratorial expression on his face, he added:

“It’s changed.”

His meaning was clear to me: Cheltenham was a good, white school when he was there, then the blacks moved in and it went to hell. There’s no other reasonable interpretation of those words in the mouth of a person who lived in America in the 1960s and 1970s, when they’re directed in private, presumably off the record, to an American immigrant of roughly the same age, and when they’re accompanied by a conspiratorial look on one’s face.

The Wikipedia entry on Cheltenham High School, one of the oldest in Pennsylvania, says that as of the 2011-12 school year, the student body there was 49% Black, 40% White, 7% Asian, 3% Hispanic, and 1% Native American.

In the mid-1960s, high schools in traditionally white, wealthy suburbs of big American cities like Philadelphia didn’t have that sort of ethnic breakdown – they were all or nearly all white. Later, many of them, including Netanyahu’s alma mater, “changed.”

Why did he make that remark with that expression on his face during the warm-up for our interview? I figure it was because he wanted to gauge whether he was going to be talking to his kind of Jewish immigrant to Israel, or to a liberal. (As I remember, I nodded without expression in response to his remark.)

Netanyahu’s supporters can easily dismiss this anecdote as meaningless, as the purely subjective interpretation by an inveterate Bibiphobe of a two-word comment and a facial expression. But for those who aren’t Netanyahu supporters, and who know something about “changing neighborhoods” and “white flight” in America from the 1970s on, what else could he have meant? In the context of his views of Hispanics, not to mention his bottomless contempt for Arabs, together with his generally superior, cynical, narrow, rigid worldview and character, the logical – not to say obvious – way to understand what he was saying about his old high school was that it “changed” from white to black, or to racially integrated; i.e. from a good school to a bad school.

With all that’s known about Netanyahu, I think that taking those words to be innocent and unassuming would be a stretch. Instead, I think it’s fair to conclude on the basis of that anecdote that Netanyahu holds racist attitudes towards blacks.

To what extent, though, is an open question. For instance, his loathing of Obama – does it stem partly from white racism? I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that it does, but I do think that the question, in light of the above, is an interesting one to ponder.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Mikesailor

      That Netanyahu exhibits that old-time racism is fairly obvious. Anyone who allows his government to treat all African blacks as “infiltrators” and a “cancer” for attempting to find asylum in the so-called “Jewish” state is at least an acquiescing racist if not an overt one. But, I would submit the real problem is his arrogant bigotry and dismissal of the humanity of non-Jews. Not to mention his outright contempt for the United States and its ideals and even laws; and his boasting of using the “useful idiots ” in the Diaspora to rubber stamp whatever cruel and racist policies his government implements. He is a liar, a criminal and a despicable excuse for a human being. Isn’t that enough?

      Reply to Comment
      • All the High Court demanded in the case of African refugees was individual asylum hearings, conforming to the refugee treaty. Instead, two Bibi Administrations have placed these in what amounts to indefinite detention until they agree to leave the country in despair. If hearings had been kangaroo, many of these refugees would have already been deported. But the leadership was unwilling to limit Knesset Supremacy even to that extent, or risk Court tailoring of exactly what an adequate hearing is.

        But this is not just Bibi. It’s national right ideology itself. This ideology does not bow to law. Bibi’s coming trip to Congress is a much weaker form of the same hubris.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Baladi Akka 1948

      The female Bibi pushed aside to get on the bus during the march in Paris recently was Asian (and happened to be the French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin). When I saw the images I wondered if he’d acted so if she were White (and if he’d known who she was)

      Reply to Comment
      • Josh

        She’s a woman. That’s all a racist male bully needed to know.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      I wonder if Larry looks for hidden meaning in his alphabet soup? Larry does not produce one iota of evidence that the comment was meant as an ethnic slur. The school in question had an academic reputation for excellence which reputation it has lost. There is no indication that Netanyahu meant anything more than this.

      There were high achieving people of color attending when Netanyahu went to high school. His brother’s classmate was Hall of Famer slugger Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. Many of Jackson friends, girlfriends, coaches and teachers were Jewish. After the Munich Massacre Jackson joined Jewish players on the Oakland Athletics team and wore a black arm band in memory of the Jewish athletes murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists.

      One might also mention that under Netanyahu’s stewardship the Ethiopian Aliyah has continued. Under Netanyahu Ethiopian refugees were brought to Israel in each of his three terms as Prime Minister of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Brian

      Pedro, what do you think of Netanyahu’s comments about Zohair Bahloul?

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        I think Netanyahu’s assertion was fair comment.

        It is my understanding that Mr. Bahloul gave testimony at a court hearing of a Hezbollah operative who had plotted to kidnap Shimon Peres. Mr. Bahloul said he was not defending the Hezbollah operative but his family. The only problem with this explanation was that the family was not before the court for conviction or sentencing. Mr. Bahloul was called for one reason, to provide background character information which would convince the judge to throw doubt on the actions of the defendant or to give the Hezbollah operative a lighter sentence.

        Maybe Mr. Bahloul is not smart enough to know why he was called to give evidence. Does Israel need someone who allows himself to be manipulated to help out Israel’s enemies?

        Reply to Comment
        • But what Netanyahu says in his ad is that Bahloul “gives character testimony in praise of Hezbollah.” That is 180 degrees from the truth. Bahloul said in court that he was “shocked” when he heard that the defendant had “gone off the straight path” – those words are a condemnation of the path of Hezbollah. The twisting of those words is what you defend. Presumably, Bahloul was testifying out of regard for the family, which evidently hoped to gain leniency for their son by arguing successfully – and, according to Bahloul, truthfully – not that he had done something right, but that his actions for Hezbollah represented an aberration in his life, that he’d been raised differently and acted differently but had “fallen off the straight path” and that this should be taken into account in his sentencing. There’s nothing wrong with that, nothing even “anti-Zionist” about that. Yet this is what you denounce while defending Netanyahu’s extraordinary slander – his portrayal of the most moderate possible Arab – an Arab running on the “Zionist Camp” ticket! – as one who “gives character testimony in praise of Hezbollah.”

          Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          “When a future MK in this list gives character witness in praise of Hezbollah–what can we add?”

          Pedro, the public statement by the Prime Minister, to the people of Israel, is false, on the face of it. 180 degrees false–it reverses the truth. So Netanyahu is actually lying here (about one of his citizens). This doesn’t bother you? You called this “fair comment.” Do you still see it that way? Are public lies about a person in general fair comment? Are public lies by a Prime Minister about one of his citizens fair comment?

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Well, that’s informative. Pedro, your not answering my questions answers my questions. It’s helps all of us to be realistic about what the party of Naftali Bennet and allied parties are really all about. So there are no illusions. The silence on the Right here in general is deafening. Don’t all speak up at once now people.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Bar

      Had Larry just stuck to the Bahloul story and the unfair attack on him, this article wouldn’t have been beneath contempt.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Merlot

      I live in Cheltenham and I hear this same sentiment expressed all the time. At times it is clear that the sentiment comes with racial undertones and that the person saying the school has gone downhill is saying this due to changes in demographics. However, at present it is more often true that people are referring to actual problems in the district. However, in 1993 the current administrative problems in the district did not exist. It was a very good school district and despite its administrative problems remains a pretty good, certainly above average, school district. In 1993 the idea that the change being referred to could be anything other than racial integration is hard to believe.

      Reply to Comment
      • Merlot, if I ever get to Cheltenham, I’m going to award you the Commenter of the Century medal. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

        Reply to Comment