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At a rally for Egypt in Tel Aviv, some express racist ideas

In a region saturated by journalists vying for the best story and often missing the most powerful ones, new media platforms have opened a space for the stories that fall through the cracks of mainstream reporting outlets. These platforms allow bold journalists to get to the heart of a society and investigate sentiments on the streets as opposed to accepting the prepackaged image which the state apparatus portrays. In Israel, these platforms shed light on many of  the preconceived notions that a majority of Israelis harbour about the Arab world.

David Sheen, a journalist living in Tel Aviv, recently attended a Tel Aviv rally in support of Egyptians struggling for democracy, with a camera and microphone. The event took place outside the Egyptian embassy, which is located in a salubrious, tree-lined area of northern Tel Aviv. Most of the demonstrators were Palestinian citizens of Israel who chanted in Arabic, among other chants, for the freedom of the Arab people. Sheen did not simply cover the protest; he asked Israelis in the area what they thought about the chants, the symbols (specifically the Palestinian flags which many protesters waved) and the sentiment expressed by the protesters. According to official press reports and quotes of high ranking Israeli officials, Israel is one of the few countries in the Western world that supports the dictatorship of Mubarak. This video gets to the heart of the reasons underlying that support, which can be boiled down to racist attitudes against Arabs.

What Sheen demonstrates in this video is how ingrained our racism has become and what role apathy toward the occupation plays in its perpetuation.  I am not talking about the blatant racism of settlers or the rhetoric that is used to convince our young soldiers to humiliate Palestinians on a daily basis, both of which have violent overtones. In fact, I am not even addressing the racism of mainstream right political parties like Likud. Instead I am addressing the racism which comes from the liberal sectors of our society and allows the society to maintain its constant aggression towards the Palestinians and its antagonistic approach to the Middle East in general. Since Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are hidden away behind a myriad of checkpoints and walls, most Israelis have little direct contact with them. This physical disconnect adds to the preconceived and, sometimes racist, notions about Palestinians.

3 KM To Europe. Sign Pointing to Tel Aviv from Jaffa. Photo: Joseph Dana

3 KM To Europe. Sign Pointing to Tel Aviv from Jaffa. Photo: Joseph Dana

Due to the separation of Israeli and Palestinian society, this apathetic racism based on ignorance is often found in the heart of our liberal and European-like areas, such as Basel Square of North Tel Aviv where this video was filmed. Without connection to its neighbors, Israel has no choice but to align itself, culturally and politically with Europe. Our political foundations are based on European models and the ideological forefathers of the state such as Theodor Herzl wrote in European languages. Exactly in the heart of middle class and euro-centric Tel Aviv one can find blanket examples of misguided apathetic attitudes towards Palestinians and the Arab world

Among the lovely cafes lining the streets of north Tel Aviv, where one can find the latest Hebrew translation of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project or buy designer clothing from France, liberalism is constructed to allow a brand of national exclusivity a place in the Western world. Our society understands that the freedom and rights of Jews in Israel are paramount especially over the freedom and rights of Palestinians whether they are citizens of Israel or the West Bank/Gaza. In this way, the hijacking of liberal thinking is used to allow for racist understandings of Arabs. Using Western liberalism to rationalize racism for the Other is not special to Israeli society and can be found in virtually every Western society in the world. However, given the history of the Jews as the ultimate Other in Western society, it is tragic to see the Jewish state engaged in similar vilification of Arabs as the Other in Israel.

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    1. f

      En Belgique aussi nous manquons de personnes de bonne volonté…

      Reply to Comment
    2. bradevans

      interesting video, but what have you proven. that israeli’s are skeptical of arabs? is that new news? do you think this “ingrained racism” as you call it, is anything more or less then you would hear on the arab street in reference to jews? what would you like the common non intellectual israeli to think? if the same mob of people was chanting in the US, and they were in my neighborhood chanting about arab freedom from the US, and that Mubarak and Sadat were garbage, I too would be less than thrilled. and I guarantee the voice on the street if selectively interviewed would be much more harsh then the israeli’s you picked out.

      How about if you interviewed the common Parisian on their thoughts about muslims in their country?

      Listen I am all for freedom, and I think whats going in Egypt is all well and good, but as a jew I have to be a little skpetical that the outcome of all this is not going to be the best for Israel. I really hope, and have faith that this won’t be the case, but….

      Anyway, what is your point….

      Reply to Comment
    3. Mr. Dana, this is a wonderful article, please continue to do more of these type of street interviews. This is mind-provoking, and revealing, as well as very professional. You are also allowing the Arab citizens of Israel, to have a voice! What an accomplishment!

      Reply to Comment
    4. Luna Madi-Edwards

      I agree with Gaelic Neilson. Thank you for for giving the Arab Citizens of Israel a voice. At these important times, it is crucial to start building bridges of awareness, and hopefully someday soon, reconciliation and peace. What is best for Israel and the Palestinians and the Arabs in large is freedom, liberties and provision of dignity, which without, as is the situation today, the cycle of hatred and fear would continue. Respect and acknowledgement are powerful things.

      Reply to Comment
    5. […] like a tidal wave all around her, but she had deliberately cloistered herself inside a quaint European-style bar and Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan lifestyle. Perhaps she could have contributed to the fight for a […]

      Reply to Comment
    6. Joseph,

      I just watched the video and I think your text mis-represents it. I was expecting to see racism in the style exposed in the Max Blumenthal videos, but most of the Israeli Jews interviewed were much more complex.

      What I think was a more salient theme, was a tension and dissonance between a personal view that wants to be not racist, and to try to be open – and the effect of the massive racist brainwash Israelis have been exposed to in recent years.

      Anyway, indeed a good piece of journalism by Sheen.

      Reply to Comment