A Japanese-American Jerusalemite, who immigrated to Israel nine years ago, is speaking out against what she describes as an increasing and uncomfortable level of racism against Asians in Israel since the coronavirus began to spread around the world.
“My kids got made fun of at school,” Neriah Blumental told The Jerusalem Post. “The kids put their heads inside their shirts like they were wearing masks and said they don’t want to breathe around them.”
Lately, she said she tries not to travel by bus, noting that she and her friends have been made to feel very uncomfortable in grocery stores and other shops.Blumental, who is Jewish, lived in America and Japan before making aliyah.
The coronavirus originated in China. As of Saturday morning at 7:35 a.m. GMT, there have been 79,257 confirmed cases of the virus in China and 2,835 deaths. But Japan is over 3,000 kilometers away from China and has had only 236 cases – about a quarter of Italy’s 889 cases, for example.
“All Asians are not the same,” Blumental said, noting that, in fact, there is a high level of animosity between people from China, Japan and Korea, and confusing them is rather offensive.
She said that last weekend, when Israel learned that a group of South Koreans that had been in the country were diagnosed with coronavirus, Israel shut its borders to Koreans and Japanese simultaneously. Korea has the largest number of coronavirus cases outside of China with 2,931.
Blumental’s Japanese friends received a letter from the Japanese embassy on the 23rd of February that said all Japanese were asked to stay in quarantine at their hotels until they could leave on an airplane arranged by the government the next day at 8 a.m. from Ben-Gurion Airport.
A few days later, on the 26th, the embassy disseminated a letter to Japanese travelers noting that it had received numerous reports of racism and that many hotels were denying Japanese visitors a place to stay. The embassy asked anyone who experienced a challenge to contact the embassy and report it.
“It’s embarrassing for me,” Blumental admitted. “My Japanese friends wanted to know why Israel” reacted the same to the South Koreans and the Japanese, when the status of the virus in Japan had experienced no change when the quarantine was announced and appears to be contained. Moreover, Japan has been able to trace around 30% of its cases to Chinese tourists. Italy, in contrast, traces the same percentage of cases to internal exposure, according to the WHO.
Blumental said she feels that Israel was hesitant to quarantine Italians or shut its borders to the foreigners who traveled through Italy because they are white. At the time the quarantine was put on Japan, Italy already had an equal level of coronavirus affliction.
“Why did it take three more days before Italians even had to go into quarantine?” she asked. “If they had put the quarantine into effect at the same time, that guy wouldn’t have been walking around for three days.”
Blumental was referring to an Israeli who came back from Italy on Sunday and was diagnosed on Thursday with coronavirus. Then, on Friday, his wife was also diagnosed with the disease.
According to the most recent WHO report, there have been 4,691 confirmed cases outside of China in 51 countries. The highest number of infections outside of China is in the Republic of Korea, followed by Italy, Iran and Japan. There were also 705 cases of coronavirus diagnosed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was docked in Japan. The passengers were from all over the world.She said she is not against the steps the Health Ministry is taking to protect the citizens of Israel from the virus, but she felt that the way it lumped Korean, Japanese and Chinese people together, as if this is an Asian disease and not one that originated in China, makes her uncomfortable. Moreover, it seems that Israel should be getting more accustomed to Asians, given the growing number of Asian tourists and increasing travel by Israelis to the region. For example, the number of Chinese tourists jumped 67% to 84,000 in the first half of 2019 from the same period in 2018 and the number for June alone was double the year before at about 14,000, the Tourism Ministry reported last year. On the flip side, there has been a continual rise in Israeli tourism to Japan. Figures published by the Japan's National Tourism Organization in 2012 showed that three times as many Israelis (nearly 22,000) visited Japan in 2012 compared to 2011.
“You can grow up and change your name, you can lose weight, you can wear contacts – but you cannot change your face,” Blumental said. “I want people to be outraged. We should not tolerate discrimination against anyone.”