Diplomats warn that reports of Israeli attitudes and acts towards refugees may harm Israel’s image, ignoring the acts themselves.
Our Foreign Ministry finds itself in a quandary. Israel brutally expels refugees from South Sudan, and runs a vicious and racist campaign against refugees from Sudan. Ministers and MKs are competing to see who can lead a more beastly campaign of hatred. The current winner is Madam MK and former IDF Spokeswomen Miri “I did not intend to compare the refugees to human beings” Regev, but the race is far from over.
This, reports activist Rotem Ilan (Hebrew), is how the Oz Unit (refugee headhunting unit, dregs of Israeli society so low they couldn’t even get in to the police) sounds in action: “Do you want me to fuck you in the ass? You like it, it shows” (Oz officer to an activist); “The father said he does not love you anymore, and you can fly for all he cares” (Oz officer to a mother and daughter held in custody, asking to say their goodbyes to the child’s father); “If you need to go to the bathroom, just piss in your dress” (Oz officer to a priest in traditional African garb, who actually had a residency permit); “What am I, a bell boy? Do I have to carry your luggage? You don’t want to [carry it], see if I care” (Oz officer during an arrest of a family with three children, yesterday).
Veteran journalist Yael Gvirtz described (Hebrew) some of the deportees: “A girl with hideous burns (whose mother and brother are already detained), [to be deported] to a country with no medical infrastructure… A person seriously ill with diabetes, who knows deportation consigns him to death, because there is no insulin to be gotten there. Just two of the stories, because this night is so difficult as it is. And what would the next picture be? The disaster area (and then the Israeli government will surely send an IDF flying hospital, to show the world how humane we are…)”
Oz’s activity has been described by one of its officers, Asaf Khayoun – every criminal has a name – as follows (Hebrew): “Coming into a house, there’s excitement in that. You want to find them. I just love enforcement. A few weeks ago we went to a house in Savion to check information about an illegal nanny. The owner denied it, but we knew she was there, hiding. She was hiding behind a wall. Holding a little boy, three years old. The baby kept mum, but then she started crying. She knew she had to go home. For me, catching her is an achievement.”
What for Khayoun and the rest of the Oz Unit is “excitement,” is quickly becoming a headache for the Foreign Ministry. Its officials complain (Hebrew) that Eli Yishai, Danon, Regev and the rest are causing “irreparable damage” to the public image of Israel in the United States. They report that for the first time ever, the American media used the term “race riots” in order to describe what happens in South Tel Aviv. Israel’s image, complain the diplomats, suffered a heavy blow in the black community and among American liberals.
And if the diplomats are afraid of what will happen to the Hasbara campaign in the United States – to the glittering lie that claims that the only Jewish state in the Middle East is a democracy, not an ethnocracy with strong theo-fascist elements – this is nothing compared to what will happen to Israel’s image in Africa. Many Africans may remember how Israel connived to help two fading colonial powers in their last attack on Africa, that there never was a dictator that it didn’t like, that it sold weapons to all the darkest regimes, that it was about the only ally of the Apartheid regime, Zionism’s twin. The next time our diplomats bemoan a staunch African anti-Israel position in the UN, maybe they should remember Eli Yishai and his “land of the white man” comment.
Israeli hatred of Africans did not, of course, originate with Yishai. It is embedded in Jewish scriptures and in the concept that Africans are descendants of the Biblical Ham, and hence they suffer from his curse – “he should be a slave to his brothers.” Important rabbi and convicted felon Babba Baruch said a couple of years back that Obama is a “slave turned king, who came from a race of slaves.” Mizrahi Jewish communities kept slaves, mostly African, until the late 19th century (and a female slave was documented in a Jewish house in early 20th century Jerusalem). Israel claims that it is color-blind, pointing to its acceptance of Ethiopian Jews; it fails to mention that all Ethiopian Jews are considered converts to its brand of Judaism. Yet Ethiopian Jews suffer from racism, and as most Israelis are not aware of their convert status, it’s hard to believe the hatred comes from purely religious sources.
Carmi Gilon, former ISA (Shin Bet) director-turned-mayor, used the same stereotypes against Ethiopian Jews a decade ago that are now used against African refugees (Hebrew): that they roam in gangs, they dirty the streets, destroy facilities, carry out sexual assaults – and was roundly denounced. You simply can’t talk about kosher cannon fodder this way.
The refugees would have expected some support from Palestinian Israelis – but Israeli Palestinian society also suffers from racism, the result of a thousand years of slave-kidnapping from Africa. One Arabic word for a black person is “abd,” slave. The silence of Israeli Palestinian MKs on this issue has been deafening. (I wrote extensively on slavery’s legacy on Judaism and Israel here, in Hebrew.)
This bomb would not be defused without an open, painful and public discussion. And no such discussion will take place, for two reasons. Naturally, the Foreign Ministry is ill just from thinking of a “frank discussion” on racial issues. Exposing ancient racism is bound to be ugly and public, and do untold harm to the Hasbara project. Bear this in mind: Israeli diplomats are not concerned by the horrors carried out by the Oz Unit, or the racial incitement of the politicians. They are bothered by the reports of them. If Yishai and his goons could act secretly at night, without any disturbing footage, the Foreign Ministry would have no problems with it. In this, the ministry is in full accord with the Israeli public: it doesn’t want to know what is done in its name, and it doesn’t want others to know. Let someone else do the dirty work, but keep it quiet. We are hurtling towards a psychopathic position that says that it doesn’t matter whether I am committing crimes; the only thing that matters is not being caught in the act. The idea that reality should be changed, that the world ought to be fixed, is dismissed with scorn; the only thing that matters is the battle for our image.
And, of course, Israel can’t have a campaign against racism. Any such campaign will be based on the assumption that all humans are inherently equal in their rights and ought to be treated equally. Israel’s official ideology, Zionism, is based on granting a group of people extra rights – those whose religion is Judaism. You cannot say “we’re all human beings” in Israel, because Israel’s official religion – pay attention, Ambassador Oren, there is one; it’s called Orthodox Judaism – never accepted that position, and because the education given to our children denies it. Orthodox Judaism divides the world into Jews and non-Jews, with the latter being significantly inferior. Ovadyah Yosef, perhaps the most important rabbi in the history of Israel, recently reminded us it is improper, from a Jewish point of view, to treat non-Jewish patients on the Sabbath (Hebrew). The Israeli Ministry of Education disqualified a book about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights two years ago, mostly because it informed pupils there is a universal right to convert from the religion of your parents (Hebrew).
Of course, this is precisely what the Foreign Ministry doesn’t want us to talk about; and, naturally, if this what the Zionist regime doesn’t want us to do, we should.