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Welcome to Israel: Where protesting racism is dangerous

On Sunday, as Israeli security forces were rounding up activists who were trying to enter Palestine, a racist conference was held in Ramle and a middle-aged woman was beaten for protesting racism. Welcome to a frightening Israel, where being non-racist is dangerous

Even though almost all of the “Welcome to Palestine” participants were prevented from reaching the West Bank, the campaign was a success. As the international and local media watched, 79 internationals were refused entry to Israel. But they weren’t trying to enter Israel. They were trying to get to Bethlehem, in Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A. And they brought the world’s attention to the fact that Israel seems to consider even Area A its own, that Palestinians have zero power over their own territory, that the occupation shuts Palestinians off from the world and makes any sort of normal life impossible.

The campaign also shed light on how intolerant the only democracy in the Middle East is of the mere words “Palestine” and “Palestinian.”

On the airplane from Geneva to Tel Aviv, I had the chance to meet some of the activists. One showed me the letter she would present to Israeli authorities. It didn’t say anything about the occupation or the nakba—the type of things that are sure to send security forces into a panic. No, all it said was that she had been invited to help build a Palestinian school and would be hosted in Bethlehem.

Israeli authorities said that the activists were provocateurs who sought to delegitimize Israel. If building a Palestinian school is provocative, if the mere act of meeting Palestinians is “delegitimizing,” what does that say about Israel?

After we got off the plane, I hung back and stayed behind a group of activists as they went through passport control. They silently handed their “provocative” letter to authorities who promptly whisked them away.

As for me, I was allowed to photograph only the Ministry of Tourism officials who were handing out flowers and water to the passengers arriving at Terminal 1. Security guards threatened to arrest me when I tried to film anything else. They threatened to arrest me for moving too slowly through passport control, too.  Eventually, I was forced to present my passport and then two men escorted me to a bus that took me, the other Israelis, and a few internationals to Terminal 3, the main building.

There, I was reminded that Israel’s intolerance doesn’t stop with Palestinians. When I got to the arrivals hall, I noticed that right-wingers were allowed to protest the fly-in. When Israeli leftists quietly unfolded small sheets of paper that read “Welcome to Palestine”—and when one held a drawing by a Palestinian child—security swarmed them. As they were hustled off to detention, the right-wingers followed, screaming that the leftists should “go to Syria” and that “Israel is the most democratic country in the Middle East”—which was ironic given that the activists were being detained for holding up a small piece of paper that included the word Palestine.

Israel’s true colors were also on display at Sunday’s Ramle Conference, a short ride away from Ben Gurion International Airport. There, Israeli politicians and right-wingers—including Knesset Members and rabbis who are paid by the government—gathered to discuss the “problem “of foreigners (read: non-Jews) in Israel, or as Interior Minister Eli Yishai put it, how to “protect the Zionist enterprise.”

David Sheen attended the conference and, via Twitter, reported on the politicians and rabbis’ incitement. (Sheen’s tweets were storified by Issa Edward Boursheh. Click here to read.) One MK said he started an organization to “save” the Jews of Tel Aviv from foreigners, another claimed that there are no African refugees—they’re all just infiltrators. (Considering the horrors that many Sudanese escaped, is that not reminiscent of Holocaust denial?)

Yishai reduced migrant workers, including those who come here with Israeli-issued work visas, to machines with the remark that they oughtn’t to get maternity leave, saying “they’re only here to work for us.”

There was open discussion of maintaining Israel’s “ethnic majority,” and one MK remarked, “Non-Jewish migration to the State of Israel is no less dangerous than the military threat from Iran.”

Anyone in the audience who presented facts to counter the politicians’ and rabbis’ bigoted arguments—or who questioned them—were shouted and hissed into silence, including representatives of the United Nations.

This is how Israel and Israelis deal with dissent—by bullying people into silence.

As though that point wasn’t made well enough in Ramle or at the airport, some Beitar soccer fans drove it home on Sunday evening by beating a middle-aged woman who protested their use of the racist slogan “Death to the Arabs.”

Taken together, Sunday’s events prove that Israeli intolerance and racism extends beyond the Palestinians. It’s about non-Jews, in general, and anyone who supports them. If you dare to use the word “Palestinian” or “Palestine,” and if you speak out against racism, you will be put in your proverbial place, sometimes violently. Welcome to Israel: a frightening place where not being racist is dangerous.

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    1. Jack

      Israel approach any criticism with a kneejerk counter reaction.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Joel

      Welcome to Syria, where protest is lethal.

      Oops. Not supposed to go there.

      Reply to Comment
    3. joel: it’s not that you’re not supposed to go there, it’s that this conversation is about israel and invoking syria is a diversionary tactic. what is happening in other countries doesn’t excuse the situation in israel nor does it relieve israel of responsibility for her actions. best, mya

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jack

      Useless diversion.
      You mentioned Syria, any state engage in crimes get sanctions, they do get serious condemnations, they do even get invaded. When it comes to Israel however, the same states (especially UK, France, Germany, United States) are dead silent. Thats why you see these grassrots movements because they know their governments wont do a iota about Israel. They are fed up with the hypocrisy and they are fed up with the immunity Israel enjoys.

      Reply to Comment
    5. caden

      The UN was a decent idea in 1946. Now its a theater of the absurd better suited to a circus. And not a funny one.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AAA

      Suggestion1: try to enter Palestine through Jordan… why must you enter Israel?

      Suggestion2: try to protest against any other countery by using their airport. (let’s take for example US).

      Suggestion3: Try do quarrel with the police and solider of other counteries.. see what will happen to you. US included.

      By definition Israel is a democratic jewish state, with minorities of equal rights.
      There are many countries defined by their own religion (see majority of all arab countries), but it seems that this is not bothering you. Why?

      Reply to Comment
    7. As early as 1940 the great historian Cecil Roth wrote in the preface to “The Jewish Contribution to Civilization”:

      “It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the much-discussed “racial” differentiation between the Jews and their neighbors, especially in those countries like Germany, in which their settlement is of oldest date, is largely artificial. The amount of Jewish blood traceable among non-Jews is surprisingly great, even if one goes back for only a single century. Vice versa,few Jews can fail to have (whether they realize it or no) some tincture of non-Jewish blood in their veins.”

      It seems that those who most dislike non-Jews are the most unaware of their own history.

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      Surely the residents of Sodom protested to the Lord – Why are you picking on us? Why don’t you go immolate Jericho, instead? Or Ur – they worship idols in Ur! You’re just a Sodomite-hater!

      Reply to Comment
    9. Philos

      @Aristeides, LOL! Thanks. That made my day. I was feeling glum because of this post, which added to my usual apprehensions about National Neuroses Day but you comment has been like a ray of sunshine. Many thanks 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    10. Piotr Berman

      The apologist of the government were referring to police actions in Europe, including Copenhagen in 2009 when 700 protesters were arrested.

      Therefore it is instructive to compare the context. In Copenhagen 30 to 40 thousands protesters legally marched on an approved route of 4 kilometers. Huge numbers came to Denmark for the occasion. In Schengen zone there are absolutely no controls who can enter the country for a demo. So there is absolutely no comparison in what democracies like Denmark permit foreigners to do to express their opinion in a public place, and what Israel permits.

      Concerning the police action, the similarities are closer, about 2 percent of protesters were arrested. I would also remark that politicians influence what police is doing. If they are hysterical about it, some huge danger is proclaimed etc. police over-react, sometimes lethally. Clearly, GoI was quite hysterical on the occasion of Flytilla and a person like Col. Eisner did not see humans in front of him but “delegitimizing hordes”. If you fire up the troops with inflamatory speeches, some are duly inflamed.

      If course, official hysteria in Israel oscillates between “scarlet red” and “orange”, no “green level” period. And most of the public accepts that rhetoric, and some, like Col. Eisner, accept very enthusiastically.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Matt

      I would say openly taking sides with the genocidal racist Hamas and the people who elected them to lead them isn’t a good idea while you are in the state that has suffered hundreds of casualties at their hands, but then I would be making the activists responsible for their own actions and we all know that’s not allowed.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Anonymous

      Mya and her friends know very well that airports are potentially dangerous places even in places like America, let alone Israel. You don’t walk into an airport and start talking about “bombs” or “terrorists.” It just isn’t done.
      By the same token, airports are tempting targets for terrorists. Accordingly they are not free speech zones. If you want to protest that’s fine, but do it somewhere else. What’s so hard about this? Or do Mya and her friends think that their self-proclaimed “righteous cause” give them a free pass to do whatever they want?

      Reply to Comment
    13. mya guarnieri

      aaa: israel controls the border with jordan, too, so they can’t enter that way.

      matt: hamas has nothing to do with the fly in.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Matt

      Hamas has everything to do with the fly in.
      These activists support the Palestinians, the Palestinians are represented by Hamas (as decided by the elections of 2006), thus the activists at some level support Hamas. When you openly support the enemy side in a war, you can’t expect the state you’re in to treat you like royalty.

      Reply to Comment
    15. aristeides

      Hitler has everything to do with the fly in.
      These activist support the Palestinians, the Palestinians are supported by Iran, and the president of Iran is Hitler, thus the activists at some level are all Hitler.

      When you throw out all rationality, you can prove anything.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Matt

      Aristeides, imagine standing in the middle of London during the Blitz and declare you’re standing in solidarity with the Germans. Imagine how long you would last.

      “Rationality” was “thrown out” the minute these European leftists went to Israel in support of fascist Arab terrorists and expected Israel to welcome them with open arms.

      Reply to Comment
    17. noam

      matt, so what about israelis who “support the palestinians”? are you suggesting that israelis in favor of palestinian independence and an end to the occupation in the west bank are also hamas supporters? why don’t we outlaw them as traitors in a time of war?

      you’re whack.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Hassan

      Interesting how those commenting on how other countries might treat protesters, fail to see that their logic is rendered mute by the fact that in Israel right-wing protesters are able to protest in a belligerent, and sometimes violent, manner at the airport with little, or no, repercussions.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Dan

      Israel is a very tolerant country, but just not to people wishing its destruction (surprise, surprise).

      You cannot complain that the country you are about to protest against and wish to break its laws is not welcoming you. Israel is not your back yard.

      You are complaining that you weren’t given the chance to take pictures as you wish in the airport -I recall the last time I was in a US airport (or any other airport) it was clearly stated not to take pictures. Try to do this at any other airport and see what happens.

      You are twisting the facts when you say that “gathered to discuss the “problem “ of foreigners (read: non-Jews)”.. come on… give up this trick… minorities in Israel have equal rights as any other *citizen* in Israel… unlike the Jews is Europe before and during WW2.

      How about America or any other country? Do illegal immigrants have equal rights to the citizens? Which country encourages illegal immigrants?

      You are stating that Israel is against African refugees… but according to the international law a refugee is defined as a person that escaped the persecutions in its country to a *neighboring* country. Israel, as I recall has no border with Sudan. But Egypt has.. What’s the problem with Egypt? Or any of the other 8 countries around it?

      In fact these Sudanese are just looking for employment here.. get your facts straight. Israel does not have to allow them to live here, just like America doesn’t.

      What occupation you are talking about? There was never a country named ‘Palestine’. What is their history? Where are their archaeological remains and proofs that they are a nation that lived together on these lands? The Jews have numerous proofs.. But don’t let that confuse you.

      For your information, the majority of people that call themselves ‘Palestines’ were brought to these lands by the British from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and their other colonies as workers, not so long ago..

      By the way, the funny thing is that the people that call themselves Palestinians cannot even pronounce ‘P’ (or any other Arab speaker..) Funny, no?

      If you are such an open minded and liberal person, you would have the dignity to publish my comment.

      Greetings from Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Matt

      Israelis who live in Israel have rights. They are allowed to openly side with the enemy as long as they don’t break the law. Just look at MK Zoabi.
      But that means they’re not justified in complaining when the Israeli government views them suspiciously or pays them extra attention (within limits of course). They brought that negative attention upon themselves when they sided with the enemy. Just like these leftists did.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Jack

      So an enemy is.
      1. Someone who want Israel to follow international law.
      2. Support a palestinian state

      Reply to Comment
    22. Lauren

      Forget about America protesting. O-Bomb-a has passed law after law criminalizing everyday life. The Constitution has been flushed down the toilet. Protesters here get beaten, maced, and treated like terrorists. Bloomberg and his personal police state have been trained by IDF and Shin Bet…. we are all Palestinians now.
      I’m just looking for the day I can leave NYC facism and live somewhere I’m treated with dignity.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Matt

      Who is an enemy is a matter of opinion. In my opinion, Israel’s enemies are anyone who sides with the nation of people opposed to Israel’s existence, aka the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Kraftman

      Matt, I think a better analogy would be to imagine standing in the middle of Paris in 1943 and declaring your solidarity with the French. It would also be foolhardy but also morally brave.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Jack

      A majority of palestinians support two states, compared to the netanyahu regime that reject a palestinian statehood.

      Reply to Comment
    26. aristeides

      Matt – Rationality was lost when Zionists decided their victims were the aggressors. “He hit my gun butt with his face! He’s a terrorist!”

      Reply to Comment
    27. Jack

      Your poll has nothing to do with this.
      First we are talking about palestinians support for a two state solution.
      Now palestinian elected parties as PLO support it, Hamas has voiced support.
      Your poll didnt mentioned this, it mentioned that palestinians didnt think it was viable anymore as a solution. To say something isnt viable (annexation is probably the reason) isnt to say you dont want two states. Second, there is nothing in international law that demands that palestinians or anyone else recognize Israel as a jewish state, thats absurd. Palestinians have already recognized Israel. You might take a guess whats happening with palestinians INSIDE of Israel if palestinians OUTSIDE recognized Israel as a jewish state. Remember Peace not apartheid, the latter would be a reality unless Israel recognize Palestinian statehood.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Matt

      That’s what I thought. Run along back to Ha’aretz.
      Offer some proof Palestinians support the two state solution. The real two state solution, not the “phased plan” of which the two state solution is just the first step.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Jack


      “In a 2002 poll conducted by PIPA, 72% of both Palestinians and Israelis supported at that time a peace settlement based on the 1967 borders so long as each group could be reassured that the other side would be cooperative in making the necessary concessions for such a settlement.[13]”

      Majorities of Palestinians and Israelis Now Support Permanent Two-State Settlement, Survey Finds

      Reply to Comment
    30. max

      “racism”… is mentioned in the title and in the closing remark. No reference to it in the text.
      Oh, well, it’s just words.
      It’s also just words that pretend that Israel behaves so differently than other, ‘enlightened’ countries in such times, that Hamas has ever recognized Israel’s right to exist, or that visitors have equal rights to residents in any other country.
      It’s cheap to type, it’s rewarding to rant, it’s too difficult to get down to facts.
      Words, so we can tell our friends how just we are.

      Reply to Comment
    31. Danaa

      Jack, right on in your response to Joel.

      Indeed, to draw the analogy to Syria, all we need is for the UN to impose sanctions on Israel, for the Nato countries to gang together and arm the opposition then go on a media blitz for some “Free Palestine” movement. Not to mention the UN sending observers into Israel and , the West bank and Gaza to ensure that civilians are not harmed.

      Indeed, if the world did all that, there could be some equivalence. But no one has sanctioned Israel yet, have they? no one in the US media speaks on behalf of the detained and disappeared palestinians, do they? no Hillary speeches damning Israeli violations of human rights that any of us could see. So, individual activists protest where their countries fail, as Jack says.

      Analogies are good. Moral analgesics are better.

      Reply to Comment
    32. Jack

      There are references but I guess you are using the standard approach, denying.

      Palestinians have already recognized Israel. When did Israel recognized a Palestine? Never happend. So its pretty clear who the hypocrites are.

      Pending comment.

      Reply to Comment
    33. max

      JACK, if I were to say that you lie, you’d ask me for a proof, right?
      So when you claim something that even Arab news outlets say is wrong (check for example maannews; they even ask the PLO to rescind their recognition), I’m asking you for a proof.
      Or else, you’re a liar.

      Reply to Comment
    34. Jack

      What do you need sources for?

      Reply to Comment
    35. max

      1.” Hamas has voiced support”
      2. “There are references”
      3. “the netanyahu regime that reject a palestinian statehood”
      Please start with 1 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    36. Jack

      1. There are plenty of links, just google.

      2. “There, Israeli politicians and right-wingers—including Knesset Members and rabbis who are paid by the government—gathered to discuss the “problem “of foreigners (read: non-Jews) in Israel, or as Interior Minister Eli Yishai put it, how to “protect the Zionist enterprise.””
      3. Look up the Likud Charter.
      “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”

      Reply to Comment
    37. max

      1. You give 1 link, not many; when I Google, I find many saying that Hamas rejects Israel. But that’s not the issue… the issue is that you don’t read below the title. Nowhere did Heniya say that he accepts Israel. In many places he declared that he does not accept it. Why, even Turkey urged him to do so (just a year ago), but Jack knows better 🙂
      2. A fear of Israel losing its Jewish character isn’t racism, though I abhor the ideas reportedly said there.
      3. The Likud is a party. You claimed about Netanyahu’s ‘regime’. Ever heard of Netanyahu’s declaraton of his support for the two states solution in his famous speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009?
      In short, you twist facts to fit your view

      Reply to Comment
    38. Jack

      1. So the problem isnt that I link to the factual claim, the problem is that I havent given you 8 of them. Sorry but you are obviously not interesting in serious debate, you are trying to divert this debate to be about the sum of links I could provide thus diverting the focus from the question. Because we both know that it doesnt matter how many links I show, you will still come up with a reason to reject the main claim. We know the deal.
      2. A fear of South Africa loosing its white-character isnt racism? However we were talking about the pinpointing of “minorities” in these negative terms. Thats not really democratic.
      3. Likud is the leading party in Israel and have always rejected a palestinian state since they got elected. Also, brining up the coalition isnt really wise from your perspective, I dont think you wanna have a debate on what Shas think of palestinians for example.
      All facts on the ground also support the israeli rejectionism (continued illegal settlements, continued landgrab, continued claims on East Jerusalem, continued rejectionism on right to return).

      Reply to Comment
    39. max

      Jack, the fact is that you claimed that Hamas has voiced support for Israel and that’s a lie.
      For the rest, I propose that you brush up your understanding of politics and the differences between parties and governments

      Reply to Comment
    40. caden

      Lauren, I’ll be happy to drive you to to Penn station or the PA. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I’d suggest “kiladelphia”

      Reply to Comment
    41. John Yorke

      So much contention and yet so little achieved.

      All the comments here seem to mirror the Arab-Israeli situation, albeit in microcosm. Neither side will admit of the other’s point of view; there can be no meeting of minds, no basis upon which to develop a working relationship or seek out a solution acceptable to all concerned. It’s almost as if both levels of dispute are maintained in being only by their inability to settle the matter once and for all. It’s as though some final test of strength, skill or reason has to prevail before the subject can be closed and the entire business consigned forever to the history books.

      But, with no end in sight of either conflict or arguments for or against one side or the other, people will continue to die, the situation deteriorates further and nothing of any value is gained in the process.

      I can’t help thinking that the sheer inefficiency associated with these circumstances is beyond comprehension.

      Let’s, just for a moment, stop arguing, take stock of what’s happening and ask ourselves one simple question.

      Is there anything we can do to make all this go away? What could silence the arguments, halt the fighting, the fears and suspicions and do so in a manner so final that all other considerations disappear into thin air?

      To achieve much may require that much must be put at risk. Life holds that principle to be so often true. On balance, it has been found that the greater the risk, the greater is the reward.
      And, once, in what can seem like an eternity, both risk and reward do turn out to be the very same thing.


      Reply to Comment
    42. max

      @John Yorke “it has been found that the greater the risk, the greater is the reward” is only half of the story; the other half is that the greater the risk, the greater is the probability of failure. That’s why it’s a risk…
      A risk is measured by probability and impact. You’re more likely to take a risk where the (negative) impact is a loss of some money than the loss of your life, or even your home.
      I’m yet to see an insurance company risking its money on this topic, let alone people who feel that their lives depend on it. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that an agreement is accepted by – and not enforced upon – both parties and can be maintained over a very long period of time

      Reply to Comment
    43. John Yorke

      @ Max,

      In a way you’re 100% correct but I think that what you’re looking for here is an almost impossibly high degree of certainty.
      And, as you, I and everyone else know, there are only two things that are certain in this life:
      death and taxes.


      Apply this principle even these could become avoidable in quite large measures.

      Reply to Comment
    44. Benjamin

      I loved this article! My grandpa was an anti-zionist! Thank you for writing this!

      Reply to Comment
    45. AYLA

      Thank you, @John Yorke. If we’re going to conflate (vs. staying on specific topic), let’s do so productively. There’s this video about many of the co-existence orgs in Israel/Palestine, and JohnYorke reminded me of this Israeli child who speaks at the end. The video itself may be a bit peace-and-love to some people’s taste at the beginning, but it’s worth a watch, both for the optimism and for the brave, serious people–bereaved families, combatants for peace, etc.–who are devoting their lives to breaking free of their own narratives and egos for the higher good. Keep track of how much time you spend on these 972 comment threads. Keep a log. How many hours per week? What could you do with that time to make a difference? If you only watch 30 seconds of this video, start at 11:07, where this boy says that what Arabs and Jews need to do is sit down and discuss it. The interviewer asks him if he knows what he would say if he were invited to such a discussion. The boy, while tying his shoe, says something like: There’s a lot I would say; I thought about it in the car (my favorite line 🙂 ): If we can agree, we can all share this land. If we can’t agree; no one can have it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIGLH5bpucg&feature=share

      Reply to Comment
    46. AYLA

      Here’s what the kid said: “If they don’t agree, it doesn’t belong to anyone. But if they agree, it could be for everyone.”

      Reply to Comment
    47. John Yorke

      Thank you for that link, Ayla.

      It is very pleasing to see that positive steps are still being taken to tackle problems that decades of time and toil should have resolved long ago.

      ‘Out of the mouths of babes’ can often come a truly adult understanding far beyond their years.

      But understanding is only the first part of the process. To apply that understanding and make it work for us, it may be required that we must all go further back than even childhood itself.

      And what is further back than childhood?

      Birth. Or, in this case, a rebirth, the putting aside of a previous life and entering into a world reborn; a second chance to live that life again but this time in a much fuller sense and with some prospect of making good on so many mistakes of the past.


      Reply to Comment
    48. AYLA

      Amen, JY.

      Reply to Comment
    49. Cameron

      Those who bless ISRAEL wil be blessed. Those who cuesed ISRAEL wil be cursed (Genesis Holy Bible).

      Reply to Comment
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