Jeff Barak 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The story was shocking enough, but what really shocked me was the radio host’s
line of questioning.
Let’s start with the story. The night after Shavuot,
at around 3:30 am, a 15-year-old boy was knocked over by a motor scooter while
crossing the road. The 15- year-old wasn’t the only injured party. The motor
scooter was also carrying a pillion passenger, a 13- year-old boy, who was
thrown off the back of the bike and badly injured. The condition of the person
riding the scooter is (at the time of writing) unknown, for the simple reason
that he rode off, leaving two people lying injured and unattended in the middle
of the road in the Carmel district of Haifa.
In the morning, Army Radio’s
Rino Tsror, a leading presenter, interviewed the police officer in charge of
investigating the accident, and asked all the standard questions a radio host
asks in situations like this. He also voiced the appropriate shock and concern
at the ages of those involved, and stressed his lack of comprehension as to how
somebody could run somebody down, in the process badly injuring the passenger
they were carrying, and then just drive off without tending to the injured and
calling for help.
So far, so normal – as much as this type of accident is
normal (unfortunately given the horrific car crash in Haifa on Saturday morning,
these events are indeed becoming regrettably common).
And then Tsror,
grappling for the politically correct way to ask the question, asked the police
officer which part of the city the pillion passenger – and by implication, the
rider of the scooter – came from. The police officer, understanding what Tsror
was really trying to ask, refused to play along, and simply answered “the
greater Haifa area.”
For those for whom the codes of Israeli discourse
are still hidden, Tsror was not indulging in mere geographic curiosity; he
wanted to know whether the scooter rider was a Jew or Arab – something easily
discernible in Haifa (and of course, all over Israel) depending on where a
NOW WHAT possible difference does it make to a “simple”
hit-and-run story whether the driver was a Jew or Arab? Unlike the case of Kafr
Kassem resident Islam Ibrahim Issa, who is suspected of the Nakba Day truck
rampage in Tel Aviv which killed Aviv Morag, there was no hint of nationalistic
motives behind last week’s scooter accident.
And it’s not as if Jews
could never be guilty of running somebody over and then fleeing the scene. Tal
Mor, from Kfar Baruch, is currently on trial for manslaughter after running over
and killing cyclist Shneur Cheshin last year. Mor is also charged with fleeing
the scene and failing to offer assistance, along with other charges such as
driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, possession of drugs,
obstruction of justice and driving without a valid license or
So why did Tsror feel the need to try and ascertain whether
the suspected scooter driver was a Jew or Arab? I can’t answer this for him and,
given the fact that Tsror generally gives the impression on being on the side of
society’s underdogs, his line of questioning was doubly surprising.
course, it’s not just Arabs who are sometimes dealt with in this way in the
media (which, as well as setting the public agenda, also acts as a reflection of
a society’s values and prejudices). Haredim who run afoul of the law also
receive more than average media attention for their crimes, not because of the
crimes themselves, but because of the criminal’s haredi background, which is
often highlighted, whether this background is relevant or not.
is that Israel has some way to go before it becomes a fully tolerant, open
society. There are some bright spots, as highlighted by this weekend’s Gay Pride
parade in Tel Aviv which, due to Tel Aviv’s special character, is a jubilant
celebration rather than the political demonstration that marks Jerusalem’s
annual Gay Pride march.
But while the country’s gay, lesbian and
transgender communities were having fun on Tel Aviv’s Gordon beach, celebrating
their sexual identity, the coalition’s ministers and MKs plus spouses chose to
spend a bonding weekend in Safed, one of the country’s most intolerant cities.
This is a city whose chief rabbi last year issued a halachic ruling prohibiting
Jews from renting homes to Arabs in the center of town, and where Arab students
enrolled at the Safed Academic College have been the target of ugly public
Not surprisingly, given this government’s record of legislation
discriminating against the country’s Arab population, there were no calls for
tolerance and respect for the Other at this gathering, or a condemnation of
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s religious ruling. In fact, the ministers and MKs probably
felt very much at home in Safed’s “special” atmosphere – something we should all
find troubling, whether we are Jew or Arab, religious or secular, gay or
straight.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.