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'NY Times' publishes defense of racial segregation in Israel

Imagine that the ‘New York Times’ published an op-ed defending the segregation of white and black schoolchildren at an American amusement park. That’s more or less what happened in Israel recently.

By Mairav Zonszein and Lisa Goldman

This article was originally published on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog on June 14, 2013.

A roller coaster at the Superland amusement park (Superland.co.il)

Imagine that Six Flags Great Adventure, a New Jersey adventure park, quietly instituted separate days for black and white schoolchildren. Exposed by the media, the management claimed they had acted in response to complaints from some white parents about the behavior of the black children, saying they behaved badly and cursed at the white children. Senior government ministers, including President Obama, said they were outraged and suggested the incident merited an official investigation. And then a white person wrote an op-ed defending the Six Flags management’s decision. In an article saturated with links and references to right-wing media outlets like Fox News, the Washington Free Beacon and the Drudge Report, the white author claimed that Six Flags’ policy was not racist. And the New York Times published the piece.

A variation of this scenario happened in Israel recently, when local media exposed the Superland amusement park’s policy of segregating Arab and Jewish schoolchildren. The mainstream media and the government, including right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were outraged. But Shmuel Rosner, a journalist who lives in Tel Aviv, defended the management’s policy in an op-ed for the New York Times, on the International Herald Tribune‘s Latitudes Blog. According to Rosner, the policy is not an expression of racism, but rather pragmatism that reflects a regrettable reality.

Rosner explains that Superland’s management is just trying to “prevent trouble” between Jewish and Arab kids who behave badly toward one another. This is the same argument that elite American universities like Harvard made for imposing quotas on Jewish students as recently as 50 years ago. The deans justified their policy by explaining that letting a department fill up with Jews would exacerbate anti-semitism, so by limiting the number of Jewish students they were actually protecting them.

Rosner cites statistics showing that a majority of Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens see the country as a “foreign imprint in the Middle East” and that “more than half of Israel’s Jews were ‘not ready to have an Arab neighbor‘.” Leaving aside the relevance of these polls to schoolchildren out for a day at an amusement park, one would think the lesson to draw from such expressed hostilities is that much more needs to be done to impart respect, tolerance and equal rights. But Rosner makes no such case. Instead, he is content to conclude that when it comes to Arabs and Jews, “the mix can be a recipe for trouble.”

Given this logic, we wonder how Rosner can reconcile Israel’s existence in the Middle East and, more specifically, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where several hundred thousand Jews choose to “mix” with the existing Palestinian population. Perhaps he also supports the systemic discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, who are allocated far fewer resources and job opportunities than Jews, as a means of perpetuating the separation of Jews and Arabs. Is he also a supporter of the state-funded Orthodox rabbis who called on Jewish landlords not to rent or sell to Arabs, or of the Israeli ad hoc groups that organize to prevent Jews from marrying Arabs? After all, we can’t have them mixing—there might be trouble.

As Rosner himself admits, Superland’s management did not create the “mutual contempt” and “tribal sensitivities” that informs their policy. But maybe a good starting point for dealing with these trends is to condemn the practice of segregation that has clearly become normalized in Israeli society. Instead of combating such discrimination, Rosner has chosen to manage it — and to justify it.

‘Superland’ and the normalization of segregation in Israel
West Bank and East Jerusalem buses are already segregated

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    1. directrob

      I am not so sure you read the article correctly.

      ” While its proponents have sensible arguments, they ignore the impact of those on the perpetuation of bigotry and suspicion among Israelis”

      Maybe the problem is that the writer made his point in the last two paragraphs.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Beinart’s article, but not Rosen’s.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      I’m sure people are tired of me citing Hannah Arendt all the time, but here I go again: her “Reflections on Little Rock.” Arendt would almost surely have defended ethnic segregation at Superland, as well as in the hypothetical case at Six Flags, and not based on the usual individual rights argument. She wrote that while equality is the essence of the political realm, discrimination is the essence of the social realm.

      I don’t expect most readers here to accept Arendt’s theory of the political and the social, but there’s another point she made in her response to critics of “Reflections on Little Rock.” In her response, she argued that if you want to desegregate society, schools are the worst place to start. That was one of her main objections to Brown v. Board: parents were adults were putting children on a political battlefield. It’s the duty of adults to shield children from the political world, not to use them as soldiers in political battles. Using desegregation to “teach” them about racial or ethnic equality and respect is doing just that. I’m saying that if you want to solve problems between Arabs and Jews in Israel, Superland is not the place to do it.

      I recommend Hannah Arendt’s “Reflections on Little Rock” to anyone interested in issues like the segregation at Superland. It was originally published in the late 1950s in Dissent, but the article along with Arendt’s reply to critics is reprinted in her book Responsibility and Judgement.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      f the park has different days for Arabs and Jews then that is racist. If the park has everyone during the same day and fights break out that too is racist. If the parents demand separate days because they don’t want their kids to get into fights at an amusement park that is racist. I suppose then that the only sensible and not racist thing to do would be to close the park down since continued operation of the park is just too problematic.

      Rosner reconciles Israel’s existence with the fact that Jews and Arabs couldn’t agree to live together in one state so they had to set up separate states (well, the Arabs never got around to it since it doesn’t appear to have been important to them while they were under Arab control). In some way this mirrors the Superland story. Jewish and Arab kids couldn’t get along so the park pragmatically set up separate days for each. Some are unhappy with this scenario and in their infinite idealism issue a practical demand which would cause either fighting in the park on a regular basis and/or would cause the park to shut down permanently, leaving no one better off.

      Also, Mairav, I went down to Jaffa today. It is wonderful what you and your friends are doing for the gentrification of that place. It is becoming such a lovely place to visit.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        “If the park has everyone during the same day and fights break out that too is racist.” Uh, no it’s not, at all. It’s reflecting the racist nature of the society. Active segregation is racist. Messy fisticuffs caused by a lack thereof are not.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          When fights break out between Jews and Arabs and Arabs get beaten up that isn’t classified on 972mag as racist. Right.

          Reply to Comment
    4. That idiotic piece by Rosner justifying “ApartheidLand” ‘s amusement park policies only made overt what had been latent in his many pieces for JPost and “Rosner’s Domain” for quite some time now. Rosner is an apologist for the Occupation, a sock-puppet of ultra-Orthodox fundamentalists and a water-carrier for the hard right. Sigh.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Identical arguments were made against the desegregation of both schools and the military in the US. As Justice Brandeis pointed out 70 or more years ago, the State is a ubiquitous teacher; refusal to abide racism must start somewhere, and public access is a natural–and known successful–place to start.

      What seems to be happening is the formation of a direct link between West Bank racial hostility and substandard treatment of Arab Israeli citizens; “tribal hostiity,” ‘endured’ in the Bank, is projected onto citizens. The occupation may be insulated from direct notice, but it still contours the mind.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Of course Rosner’s views are repugnant, racist, reactionary and more to the point “old” in this day and age, but they reflect the attitudes of a lot of Israelis.

      In a poll that was published in Haaretz a shockingly high number of Israelis seemed okay with apartheid. A high number of Jewish respondents said they didn’t want to live around Arab Israelis or have their kids attend schools with Arabs. A high 59 percent said Jews should be given preferential treatment when it comes to jobs. Close to 50 percent said they would like to deport Arabs living in Israel to the territories.

      There is one news report from Israel going back a few years that sticks in mind. During the Cast Lead campaign Israeli TV anchor Yonit Levy expressed human feelings for fellow humans in Gaza being pounded with Israeli bombs. Even her mere expression of humanitarian sympathy elicited a fire storm of rage. A petition objecting to her “empathy for the enemy” quickly raised 10,000 signatures.

      There was no “enemy” to speak of… Gazans have no standing army, no anti-air units, no navy… as Chomsky said correctly “it was murder.”

      So not only did masses of Israelis support the brutal military assault on an occupied people trapped in an enclave with no meaningful defenses, they also attacked an Israeli woman with a heart and a conscience.

      Xenophobia and racism poison the Israeli heart and soul on a very profound level. If the racists were free to do as they choose without any international leash and oversight, there would be genocide in the Galilee. That’s the plain ugly truth.

      Rosner is just a reflection of what lies beneath the surface.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        The Haaretz poll you mentioned


        is a worthless junk, with questions written to lead to certain answers. The “shockingly high number of Israelis seemed okay with apartheid” part is utter nonsense.

        The Gazans have no standing army? Who fired hundreds of missiles into Israel?

        Israeli masses supported a military intervention against a terror organization firing missiles into populated areas for several years.

        Some Israelis are racists, others are not, just like anywhere else. Only we have a 100 conflict which does not make things better. Genocide in the Galilee?! Are you insane? This is just projecting how you feel about Israelis into how you think we feel about Arabs. That’s ugly, but as far from the truth as it gets.

        This conflict needs less people like you.Less people who are sure that one side is the devil while the other is pure and innocent. Less people who are willing to quote polls from one side and ignore the other, who imagine “genocide in the Galilee” but ignore the acts of Hamas or Hizbullah. Less people who are willing to ignore reality for some agenda.

        Reply to Comment
    7. The Haaretz poll you mentioned is a worthless junk

      Haaretz addressed the question around methodology, but the poll is very far from junk. Other polling also reflects the anti-Arab racism and “separatist” tendencies of Israeli Jews. Anyway you don’t need to read polls to know this, you just go to Israel and hang out in certain neighborhoods. This isn’t rocket science.

      The Gazans have no standing army? Who fired hundreds of missiles into Israel?

      No they don’t have an army. Small groups of militants fired the notoriously inaccurate and often homemade rockets. During an eight year period during which they were deployed the Qassams caused less than 20 fatalities. Cast Lead was an “election war” – not about Qassams… the Qassams were a pretext. Israel used the Qassams the way it uses anything that presents it as a martyr and a victim, so it can get away with oppression and brutal militarization.

      Noam Chomsky succinctly sums up the military capabilities of the Gazans in this passage:

      Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army… and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder.

      Genocide in the Galilee?! Are you insane?

      Avigdor Liberman served as a top Israeli government minister… the same man who in reference to the granting of amnesty to 350 Palestinian prisoners is on record saying: “It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point in the world.” He didn’t stop there… even announcing on Galei Tzahai – army radio – that he personally would provide the buses to take them to be drowned.

      Gideon Levy got it right when he wrote this:

      Lieberman is the voice of the mob, and the mob craves hatred, vengeance and bloodshed. A useless war in which hundreds of children were killed was received here sympathetically, if not happily. The parties from the right and center have tried to disqualify the Arab parties; these lists are also excluded ahead of time in every political calculation. And Arab students cannot rent an apartment.

      The Gush Shalom activist Uri Avnery also wrote about Liberman and the support for far-right extremism in Israel in a passage that is worth repeating:

      Liberman has created a party that is simply and thoroughly racist. Its election campaign is centered on the demand to annul the Israeli citizenship of “non-loyal” people. Meaning: the Arabs, who constitute 20% of Israel’s citizens.

      In every other country, Liberman’s program would be called fascist, without quotation marks. Nowhere in the Western world is there a large party that would dare to advance such a demand. The neo-fascists in Switzerland and Holland want to expel foreigners, not to annul the citizenship of the native-born.

      The core of the party is made up of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom have brought from their homeland an utter contempt for democracy, a desire for a strong leader (a Stalin or a Putin), a racist attitude towards brown-skinned citizens and a taste for brutal, Chechnya-style wars. They have now been joined by young, native-born Israelis, who have been radicalized by the recent war.

      When Joerg Haider was taken into the Austrian cabinet, Israel recalled its ambassador from Vienna in protest. But compared to Liberman, Haider was a raving liberal, and so is Jean-Marie le Pen.

      These sentiments remain alive and well. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that a mob that howls for the death of Arabs and for the expulsion and targeting of asylum seekers could take it to the next level.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Haaretz poll

        Polls mostly reflect what their authors want. This is even more the case in a newspaper in which even the weather section is only a cover to write about the “Occupation”. I don’t know about the Israel you hand out it, but I don’t remember any issues with the Arabs working with me or those who have studied with me in the University. (Some of them had Fatah flags in their rooms, how many students in Bir Zeit or Cairo have Israeli flags in their rooms?)
        Of course there is racism in Israel, but it stems from years of constant struggle, and I think any other country would have no less of it. This is nothing like the virulent hatred towards anything Israeli or Jewish you see in the countries that surround us.


        They fire each and every rocket with the full aim of killing civilians. Thank god they are not very good at it. Lack of skill is not lack of desire. Lack of skill does not mean we are not at war with them.

        Noam Chomsky

        Noam Chomsky is said to be a brilliant linguist. That quote is as meaningless as most of his other rantings. You don’t want Israel to fire into densely populated areas? DON’T fire rockets from schools, from basements, from hospitals and kindergarten yards…

        Genocide in the Galilee

        Please provide a link or something. As I understand it, he was talking about prisoners “with blood on their hands”. Which means murders. If this is indeed the case, then I totally agree with him. I also support the same sentence to any Jew who will be convicted of the same crimes.

        Galey Zahal does indeed have soldiers here and there, but to call it “Army Radio” is pure stupidity.


        It’s in Hebrew. I’m sure you would understand it, it would be unthinkable that someone who thinks he knows so much about Israel will not know Hebrew.

        Quoting Gideon Levy? Really? I think the guys feels pain whenever he writes the truth…


        Uri Avnery may not see, and neither may you but saying “…immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom have brought from their homeland an utter contempt for democracy…” is as racist a statement as they get. Those Russians also brought prostitution and Vodka, didn’t you know that?

        “Expulsion and targeting of asylum seekers”

        Please visit south Tel Aviv in your next visit to Israel, better yet in the evening. Maybe then you could differentiate reality from the Chomsky type fiction you like. Some of them may be Refugees, most of them are just looking for work. Just ask anyone who served in the IDF on Israel’s south border, like me. When the violence against the African workers will accumulate to 1/10 of the violence they put on Israelis, I’ll let you know.

        There won’t be any next level, don’t you see it? If Israel was really intent on killing as much Arabs as possible, don’t you think we could have done it? If Israelis wished to kill as many Arabs as possible, don’t you think this would have been done? Like when Arabs exploded in buses and restaurants DAY by DAY, how many Arabs were lynched?

        Israel has lots of problems and we are far from perfect. But people like you, who have no idea what’s really going on here and are fed by lunatics like Levy or Chomsky just stand in the way. By describing us as pure evil, you only encourage the extremists.

        Reply to Comment