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The Palestinian guide to dealing with racist compliments from Israelis

Intentions be damned, when many Jewish Israelis meet Palestinians even their compliments come out laced with passive-aggressive racism half the time. A comprehensive guide for Palestinians.

Faiek - Look like an Arab

By Faiek Dabeet.

There isn’t a single Palestinian citizen of Israel who isn’t familiar with the phenomenon. It can happen in the middle of a conversation, during a cigarette break at work, or in pretty much any interaction in a public place — with a complete stranger: Israelis who feel a little too comfortable giving racist “compliments” to Palestinians.

As a Palestinian who grew up with and has been friends with Israelis his whole life, I learned a long time ago to ignore all those with enough chutzpa and tactlessness to publicly and directly spout passive-aggressive racism. But many Palestinians, the masochists among us who haven’t yet adopted a “fuck it” approach to the day-to-day of living in the Jewish state, still try and respond to the douche-of-the-hour who is emboldened enough to express his or her ignorance or racism politely, with a smile.

So I brought together a group of Palestinian friends and we came up with some recommendations for dealing with the not-all-that-creative, often banal racism you’ll find being spewed by Jewish Israelis.

‘Wow, you don’t look like an Arab’

An all-time classic, and number one on the list of racist compliments. Nobody knows where it originated, but this one managed to embed itself in the minds of so many Jewish Israelis who seem to think that they have rays of sunshine splashing out of exactly where the sun don’t shine.

It’s particularly annoying because it is based on the appearance and/or behavior of an Arab, with unadulterated racism as its point of departure. It doesn’t matter what your skin color is or how clearly Arabic your name is. The moment someone realizes that you don’t speak or act the way The Only Democracy in the Middle East™ educated them to believe you should or would, chances are that the mother of all racist compliments will home in like a heat-seeking missile, with little tiny afterburners launching it out of the mouth of whoever suffers from any of the following three ailments: woeful and complete ignorance, an actual belief that his or her shit smells like roses, or a combination of the first two.

How to respond: The best way is to scornfully ignore it. If you feel like you need educate the arrogant racist, you can use one of the following responses:

1. Wow, oops! I totally forgot my tail at home today!

2. Seriously? The truth is you kind of look like an Arab. (Especially recommended when dealing with a Mizrahi Israeli Jew who is trying to convince him- or herself that their grandfather only spoke Arabic because he was a hipster who thought it would be cool to learn a few phrases in an exotic language.)

‘You live in Lod? Your family lets you live away from home? Right on! How courageous!’

This is a “compliment” that, unfortunately, the fairer sex has to contend with far too often. When Jewish Israelis see a Palestinian man living alone in Tel Aviv they generally assume he’s a university student or a construction worker. But if they see a Palestinian woman living all by her lonesome in the big city, suddenly they pull out their feminist torch, ready to fight for the liberation of all women, regardless of creed, ethnicity or nationality. Considering that Israeli society is itself pretty patriarchal and oppressive of women, it’s a bit hard to understand where that patronizing arrogance comes from — as if heading down to Jaffa for hummus on Saturdays somehow imbibes them with an intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of Palestinian society. Two women in our little focus group had responses.

How to respond:

1. If the compliment comes from a man: “And it was really courageous of your wife to marry someone like you.”

2. If the compliment comes from a woman: “Yes, we also allow Arab women out in public. In your specific case, it’s a bit unfortunate that Jews have the same tradition.”

Faiek - Good Arab

By Faiek Dabeet.

‘You’re proof there are good Arabs. They’re not all terrorists.’

This is usually something that follows something you’ve done that your Jewish-Israeli interlocutor deems worthy of appreciation, usually from somebody who doesn’t realize they that they are only in the position they are by virtue of being Jewish. Chances are he himself was a terrorist of sorts (a soldier in the occupation army), and just can’t admit it. Try and remind him sweetly and gently.

How to respond:  There’s one sentence that will always make smoke shoot out of the ears of Zionist Israelis (i.e., those who support Jewish supremacy). “Wow, thanks! It’s really special to hear that from someone of a nation in which so many terrorists have grown and blossomed.”

‘Wow, you’re from Nazareth? What a great place. Do you know Muhammad?’

Jewish Israelis are still trapped in the idea that all of us live in one small village, that we all know each other. From their perspective, urbanization is an exclusively Jewish phenomenon — they have absolutely no awareness of the Palestinian urbanization process that was interrupted by the occupation of 1948.

At the same time, they buy fully in to an ideology of segregation they were educated into from day one: Muhammad comes from a village, Moshe comes from Tel Aviv.

How to respond: Say “yes” and walk away. Why? Firstly, because it’s fun to watch someone’s jaw drop. Secondly, because it’s true. We all actually know one Muhammad or another from Nazareth.

Faiek - hummus

By Faiek Dabeet.

‘I tried making hummus and it didn’t turn so out well. What’s the secret?’

Stereotypes are also racist. Unfortunately, just being born Palestinian doesn’t confer an ownership stake in the Abu Hassan hummus restaurant in Jaffa. The assumption that every Arab knows how to make — or even enjoys eating, for that matter — hummus at home, even though it’s probably excellent, is pretty friggin’ racist. It doesn’t make it less racist just because you didn’t think your stereotype was hurtful, even if you were trying to praise the wonders of the Palestinian kitchen.

How to respond: Chances are that the person who asked you really does just want to learn how to make good hummus, even if he or she came off racist by instead of asking about the full scope of Palestinian culture, asking about one of its simplest dishes. Explain their mistake gently. Explain that being Arab isn’t just about hummus, but a rich, unique and deep canon of poetry, literature, and fascinating history that has helped advance the human race.

When you finish with all that, don’t forget to tell them that the secret is to use less lemon and to add a bit more garlic. Otherwise it’ll come out like something they sell at Trader Joe’s.

‘Next time you bring the food. Your food is way better.’

This usually happens in a work or university setting where Palestinians and Jews work or study alongside each other. It may be annoying and disappointing that the expectation is always on the Arab of the group to bring food, because “ours is tastier.” But let’s be honest: would you really prefer that the Polish-Jewish guy bring the food?

How to respond: Bring the food. Stop being so sensitive to mildly racist stereotypes. Especially in a workplace setting, good food that everyone can enjoy and for which you can take credit, will really only work in your favor — maybe even with the boss. Learn to exploit stereotypes for your own benefit.

‘You, the ‘Israeli Arabs,’ are alright. Our problem is with the Palestinians.’

Take a deep breath and count backwards from ten, nine, eight, seven, six…

How to respond: “Your mom is an ‘Israeli Arab.’ We’re all Palestinians, you asshole.”

This article, a version of which was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, was written in collaboration with Nardin Srouji, Haitham Bishara, Maisa Abed al-Hadi, and Faiek Dabeet, all of whom look and act like Arabs. If only more Jews acted like them.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Grandpa Frost

      Oh, you poor unfortunate, victims of “racism”. It almost makes me want to cry. Almost.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      That is pretty humorously written for an Israeli Arab. I wasn’t sure you people could do humor.

      I look forward to your next list of microaggressions. These do a terribly good job of demonstrating how little you have to complain about.

      Also, serious question here. I am a big fan of Druze food. Should I try Arab food too? Is it similar?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Firentis, what fun. Can I play too? Ok….
        That is pretty obnoxiously written as one expects from an Israeli Jew. I was sure you people could do obnoxiousness.
        I look forward to your next supremacist racist microagressions. These do a terribly good job of making Rami’s case for him.
        Also, serious question here. I am a big fan of Moldavian food. Should I try Jewish food too? Is it similar?

        Reply to Comment
    3. JeffB

      @Rami —

      Since turnaround is fair here would be the one that American Jews would hear.

      * Wow you don’t look (or act) like a Jew
      * Wow you are from X do you know (any other Jew). Though it is worth mentioning lots of American Jews like/love playing Jewish geography so they don’t consider this offensive.
      * You’re proof not all Jews are greedy / obnoxious / stuck up…

      On food depends on the DNA of who is eating it. Eastern European Christians love it, lots of others consider it too salty or bland or … (here is a good sample of the reactions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqYGGqTC_Us ) About a decade ago bagels started outselling donuts, so I figure we won a big one.

      And of course your last one is one you all do. Our version of ‘You, the ‘Israeli Arabs,’ are alright. Our problem is with the Palestinians.’
      * You the Jews are alright. Our problem is with the Zionists.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        False. “Zionist” is an ideology. “Palestinian” is not.
        Truer translation:
        “You the Israeli Jews are alright. Our problem is with the illegally transferred in colonizing settler Jews.”

        Your rendering of the language American Jews habitually face rings false. In the circles I travel in absolutely no one talks like this.

        BTW, Firentis here, I must admit, is proof that at least one Jew in the world is obnoxious / stuck up. But that’s just Firentis.

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Ben

          — False. “Zionist” is an ideology. “Palestinian” is not.

          Reread the original. That is precisely how the Israeli was using Palestinian as an ideology a national identity. Israeli Arabs are people who accept the existence of Israel and agree to live in peace under its laws. Palestinians are ethnically the same people but who don’t agree to live in peace under Israeli law. They are the Arab equivalent of people like you who don’t accept the legitimacy of Jewish law. They consider Jewish claims to territory self determination where they live “theft”. They consider migration “illegal”. Etc… Those are idealogical positions.

          It is that ideology that is the root of conflict. Were the Palestinians to accept that Palestine is as real as Narnia and they should take the offer to be Israelis there would be nothing to fight about.

          — In the circles I travel in absolutely no one talks like this.

          You are a foreigner. To an American ethnic you are thought of as Israeli not Jewish (Jewish American). Same as Russian Jewish immigrants are thought of as Russians not Jews. 2nd generation Russian immigrants are Jews.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “the legitimacy of Jewish law”?
            “Jewish claims to territory…migration”?
            “Palestine is as real as Narnia…they should take the offer to be Israelis”?
            “there would be nothing to fight about”?

            Your view of reality has a Narnia la la land quality to it. Dreamy fairy tale ethnosupremacism and condescension. Divorced from reality. And the funniest part: “nothing to fight about.” These are not serious ideas, JeffB.

            Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        The article isn’t about how jews are treated. Try reading it again and keep in mind that the article is about the racism experienced by palestinians from jews, period. You have hundreds of publications that are specifically about the fragile feelings of zionists and the real and mostly imagined horrors they claim to face from ‘the other’. This isn’t about how YOU are treated, but so typical of some folks to try to steal the narrative.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Considering that both official Palestinian governments openly encourage the murder of Jews, and that their official religious preachers are continually telling their worshipers that “Jews are the descendants of pigs and apes”, I would say that it is the Arabs who have a serious racism problem, not to mention the way so many Arabs are butchering each other on sectarian or clan lines. People in glass houses should not throw stones.

          Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Is your ego so fragile that you’re incapable of accepting any criticism at all? As you don’t have any stronger defense (which isn’t even necessary Ike) and can only time and time again resort to whataboutery. Poor baby.

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            I suggest you direct your comments about hypersensitivity to the Arabs.
            Regarding your constant refrain about “whataboutery”, it is IMPOSSIBLE to look at the Arab/Israeli conflict without reference to the massive fratricidal slaughter Arabs/Muslims are inflicting on each other in the rest of the Middle East. IF they can’t get along with each other, (look at the divided Palestinian leadership, for heaven’s sake!), how are they going to make peace with us Jews within whom they have had ongoing tension for the last 1400 years.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            “Regarding your constant refrain about “whataboutery”, it is IMPOSSIBLE to look at the Arab/Israeli conflict without reference to the massive fratricidal slaughter Arabs/Muslims are inflicting on each other in the rest of the Middle East. IF they can’t get along with each other, (look at the divided Palestinian leadership, for heaven’s sake!), how are they going to make peace with us Jews within whom they have had ongoing tension for the last 1400 years.”

            Thanks Ike. I rest my case. WRT “massive fratricidal slaughter Arabs/Muslims are inflicting on each other”; you’re not describing Palestinians not matter how many parenthesis you insert that having nothing to do with what your so-called point was (fratricidal slaughter) and your (look at the divided Palestinian leadershi, for heaven’s sake!) oh my. FFS – maybe you’re thinking of syria or iraq, neither of which are palestine? If you do mean Palestine then you’re referring to israeli slaughter of Palestinians? And god knows our israeli govt could never be described as bloodthirsty or incapable of any peace between it’s many, many parties – nothing but love here? ;^(

            Reply to Comment
          • Mark

            Oh dear, Carmen. Do the words pot kettle and black mean anything to you?

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            No.

            Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Carmen

          That wasn’t about stealing the narrative. It was about joining in on the narrative. This is a place where Jews in the USA and Palestinians and Israel can relate. A moment of sort empathy.

          Too bad you can’t see possibilities for friendship through all your hate.

          Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            There’s other places and times to share your narrative; why now and why here?
            “About a decade ago bagels started outselling donuts, so I figure we won a big one.
            And of course your last one is one you all do. Our version of ‘You, the ‘Israeli Arabs,’ are alright. Our problem is with the Palestinians.’

            * You the Jews are alright. Our problem is with the Zionists.”

            You really can’t help yourself it seems. You’ve hijacked this topic with a false analogy about zionists. Zionists get no pity party here.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Carmen

            There’s other places and times to share your narrative; why now and why here?

            This article is light hearted. One generally responds to a joke by joining in and extending the joke. It shows appreciation for the humor and empathy with the pain that often underlies humor. Sharing in a narrative.

            * You the Jews are alright. Our problem is with the Zionists.” You really can’t help yourself it seems. You’ve hijacked this topic with a false analogy about zionists.

            I disagree it is a false analogy. That one is a bit more cutting. But it makes that point that Palestinians vs. Israeli Arab is a political identity not an ethnic one. It often helps to see the problem from another perspective.

            Zionists get no pity party here.

            We don’t need pity. We have our country back. And heck we now outsell donuts with bagels. 🙂

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            You’ve got your country back? By what right – the bible most israeli’s don’t use for anything but a prop? You’re a joke. No response is needed or wanted; you are just regurgitating hasbara – which needs a fresh coat of paint.

            Reply to Comment
    4. bruce

      After reading your bio, I have to apologize Rami. It’s easy for me to judge from a privileged position. As much as I think that MLK and his message was made stronger by Malcom X, and the threat of violence, I am ignorant of your struggle. Everything you do is for your people. Keep doing it. Violence certainly hasn’t worked either…Or maybe it has. Maybe I would never be writing this, if the warriors of Palestine brought the struggle to the world’s attention? Either way, I feel much closer to your message than that of violence. Even if I’m right. Humans must connect with humans, if we hope to move forward.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      Sure, people from many ethnic groups suffer from racism and stereotyping, but the interesting cases are where one group has all the power and the other group doesn’t. While we’re debating the issue of ethnic stereotypes raw power is being exercised:

      http://www.btselem.org/publications/summaries/201612_expel_and_exploit

      This report tells the history of the process of fragmentation imposed on Palestinian rural land in the West Bank through a case study of three villages in the Nablus District – ‘Azmut, Deir al-Hatab and Salem. What these communities have experienced since 1980, when Israel established the Elon Moreh nearby, is but one illustration of broader developments taking place throughout the West Bank. Their story is similar to that of hundreds of Palestinian communities on whose lands Israeli settlements were established.

      Reply to Comment
    6. i_like_ike52

      Whining that comments like “Arabs make good hummus” or “You are from Nazareth, do you know Muhammed” are supposedly “racist” is simply a sign of a massive inferiority complex.
      Do you think that if someone said to someone from Switzerland that “the Swiss make good watches”, or if a Frenchmen is told that “the French make great champagne” they would be offended? A few years ago President Obama ruled that the NFL team called the Washington Redskins was racist for using that moniker and he demanded, along with much of the “progressive” crowd that the team change its name (the fact that the owner was a Republican might have had something to do with it because Obama did not demand that the Cleveland Indians or Atlanta Braves change theirs). The “progressive” Washington Post even had an opinion piece written by an American Indian saying that ALL the serious sociological problems the American Indians face is a direct result of the team having that name because, according to the writer, all Indians go around all the time thinking about it and how it is so supposedly demeaning, thus causing a lack of self-respect leading to sociological pathologies. Well, an opinion poll was conducted and the VAST MAJORITY of American Indians LIKE the name and are honored by it. The Obama’s campaign dropped the whole thing.

      Self-respect is what everyone makes for himself. If an Arab is going to go around with a chip on his shoulder if a Jew says “Arabs make good hummus”, then HE is the one with the problem.

      Regarding the Nazareth comment, I would be interested to know how knowlegable Israeli Arabs are about Jewish urban and rural demographics. If Rami can show us that the Arabs DO NOT have stereotypes about Jews, then maybe we can talk.

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        FFS Ike – then the article maybe should have been called The Palestinian guide to dealing comments by stupid, moronic israeli. Better?

        It takes a lot more than chutzpah to decide what another person’s reactions to racist/stupid comments should be or how much harm they do. By the way, did you enjoy Sean Spicer’s ‘holocaust centers’ remark and how hitler never gassed his own people?

        Reply to Comment
    7. Kaza s

      This article is full of sexism and should be removed

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mark

      ‘If the compliment comes from a man: “And it was really courageous of your wife to marry someone like you.”’
      I feel it’s a bit presumptuous and insensitive to assume every man you meet is straight.

      “dealing with a Mizrahi Israeli Jew who is trying to convince him- or herself that their grandfather only spoke Arabic because he was a hipster who thought it would be cool to learn a few phrases in an exotic language”
      Unless I am mistaken, lots of Mizrachim have grandparents who did not speak Arabic. Maybe Persian, Indian language, Turkish, Kurdish, or even French, Ladino or English.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Peter Canuck

      Hilarious… but how did you get away with the stereotypical Ashkenazim in the cartoon; the Woody Allen caricature?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Bruce

      I think you’re wanting to ask Sheni. I was only replying to what he posted, trying to be nice, mas I don’t believe they teach anything but core curriculum. When it comes to histroy, I would guess there would be a Palestinian-centric view that would focus on Al Nakba, and the stealing of their land and slaughter of their people by Israelis…but that’s just guess work. Sorry, I don’t have anymore than that. Sheni might know more…Or, at least he might share a certain perspective on the matter.

      Reply to Comment
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