Beware racism

One of Israel’s great strengths is the diverse society created over its history.

General view of the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. For Fear of Coronavirus, Israel Closes all Borders decreasing the number of tourits. The government orders all bars, restaurants and malls to close in an effort to contain the spread of virus. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
General view of the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. For Fear of Coronavirus, Israel Closes all Borders decreasing the number of tourits. The government orders all bars, restaurants and malls to close in an effort to contain the spread of virus.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
As the coronavirus crisis spreads across the globe, so do the chances that racism and discrimination will spread as well. Pandemics and crises are often linked to other breakdowns in society. When society is under pressure people tend to revert to their worst possible instincts, which can include taking out their anger on foreigners, people who look different or religious and ethnic minorities.
One of Israel’s great strengths is the diverse society created over its history. This includes people from all over the world, from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. With a large Arab minority, as well as other groups – such as the Druze, the Circassians and more – the country is divided between both Jews and non-Jews, as well as different types of Jews – what President Reuven Rivlin has called Israel’s different “tribes.” As the pandemic has spread in Israel, there have been a number of instances of attacks against foreigners.
There was a reported incident in Tiberias where a Jewish immigrant from South Asia was attacked. However, such incidents are still relatively rare. Israeli society should be applauded for these low rates of hatred directed at minorities during the crisis. This is important because past surveys have shown that many Israelis hold negative views of the “other,” whether that means Jews discriminating against Arabs, hatred directed at Jews of Ethiopian descent or attacks on asylum seekers. There have also been cases of people not wanting to live next to, or rent homes to foreign workers. 
Today, social solidarity is needed in the national struggle against the invisible enemy. The coronavirus does not discriminate based on race, color or ethnicity and so must we not discriminate either. That is important to understand. The virus may appear to disproportionately affect certain groups, but it is not that groups’ fault there is a pandemic. For instance, even early in the pandemic when there were few, if any cases in Israel, one academic incited against the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population. There was no evidence at the time the virus was spreading within the haredi community more than within general Israel society.
Today we know that in some instances ultra-Orthodox communities have been slow to take up the new government-mandated guidelines and restrictions. They have sought to continue group studies and also there was a report of one wedding with more than 150 guests. The law enforcement authorities have tracked down those responsible. However, in general, in a large community of hundreds of thousands, the ultra-Orthodox community faces the same struggles as the rest of society. In fact, due to poverty, large families and living close together, these communities might even be more vulnerable. They deserve support and encouragement, not incitement.
Nevertheless there have been incidents of people spreading the “expert” opinion on social media that stigmatizes Orthodox Jews and Arabs. One group of images shows how Israel’s medical facilities are overstretched and has photos of Jewish men learning Torah and Muslims praying on the Temple Mount. The quiet and racist message is that the “Jews” and “Muslims” are responsible for the virus. This would be seen correctly as antisemitism if it appeared in Germany.
However, in Israel this kind of antisemitic imagery is passed off as merely being “anti-haredi” as if it is acceptable to hate a group just so long as those doing the hating are also Jewish.  History shows us that allegations of “the Jews” being behind a plague or some other disease, is part of a shameful past of racism. We, once the victims, should know better and we can do better. That means not spreading false information and not hating whole groups based on the fact that a few of its members might be victims of the virus.
In the coming months, every group in Israel will need our support. We cannot begin the journey into the battle against the virus by isolating certain minorities and cutting them off or blaming them. In a national struggle against an unseen enemy, Israeli society must band together. Much as the Jewish people came to the Land of Israel as twelve tribes, we as a group of Israeli tribes can only defeat this virus if we work as one.


Tags Haredi racism