Fighting for tolerance

Recent incidents of disturbing undercurrents in Israeli society point to something wrong in the foundation of our society that needs to corrected.

June 6, 2013 22:57
3 minute read.
Superland amusement park, Rishon LeZion

Superland. (photo credit: Courtesy

In recent weeks, several incidents have reminded us of disturbing undercurrents in Israeli society. At the end of May, discrimination against Arabs at the Superland amusement park in Rishon Lezion was reported. Khaled Shakra, a seventh-grade teacher at the L.B. Ajial High School in Jaffa, tried to reserve 25 tickets for his students by phone. Shakra, who speaks perfect idiomatic Hebrew without an accent, was initially told by the Superland employee who answered his call that the reservation would be made. But after Shakra mentioned the name of the school, and it became clear that the students were Arabs, Shakra’s request was abruptly denied.

Meanwhile, this week, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Emeritus Nissim Yeshaya, during an appeals commission hearing in a rape case, said that “some girls enjoy being raped.”

Yeshaya seemed to be defending the Defense Ministry in its refusal to recognize the rape of a 13-year-old girl by four Palestinian youths from the Shuafat refugee camp as a terrorist act. Such recognition would entitle the girl to additional state-funded compensation as a victim of terrorism.

Also this week, there was a breakthrough in the Bar Noar shooting case. On the night of August 1, 2009, a masked gunman entered the basement of the Bar Noar center on Nachmoni Street in Tel Aviv – a center for homosexual youths – and opened fire with a pistol, killing Nir Katz, 26, a volunteer and counselor at the center, and Liz Triboshi, 16, and wounding 15 others.

In all three cases, there was a strong public outcry. In the Superland incident, posts on Internet forums by Shakra were quickly picked up by the news media. Public discourse critical of Superland was generated. Ministers and MKs from the Left and the Right joined in condemnation.

In the Yeshaya incident, reactions were also fittingly excoriating. Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni accepted Yeshaya’s resignation and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had considered appointing Yeshaya as head of an internal Likud court, pulled his support, noting that “a man who says such things is unfit to serve as the head of the Likud’s court.”

The police’s stubborn persistence in tracking down those responsible for the Bar Noar shootings is a testament to the seriousness with which they viewed the crime. The arrests come just two days before Tel Aviv’s annual Gay Pride Parade. In 2011, Tel Aviv beat out New York, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Madrid and London to be crowned by and American Airlines as the best gay travel destination in the world.

Still, bigotry, chauvinism and xenophobia remain strong forces in Israeli society. This sad reality was reflected, for example, in both Superland’s and Yeshaya’s initial responses. Superland’s management essentially admitted that it upheld a policy of segregation.

“In June, the park hosts events closed to the general public reserved by schools that hold end-of-year parties,” Superland said. “There are days reserved for Jewish schools and there are days reserved for Arab schools.”

Similarly, in the case of Yeshaya, there was an inability by some to fully grasp what was wrong with saying that some women enjoyed being raped. Attorney Roni Sdovnik, who was present when Yeshaya made his comment, said that “he [Yeshaya] did not understand why everyone had become silent.”

And a spokesman for the court, responding for Yeshaya, said that the judge’s comments “were not intended to hurt or disrespect rape victims.”

One can only wonder to what other end other than further degradation of an already violated young woman Yeshaya’s comments were supposedly intended.

These incidents point to something wrong in the foundation of our society that needs to corrected. And that goes for both the Jewish and the Arab sectors.

Many of Israel’s Arabs, who make up a full fifth of the population, are either indifferent or antagonistic to Zionism.

Few identify with the idea of a Jewish state. Jewish Israelis, meanwhile, tend to be traditional-minded and see their loyalty to people and religion as taking priority over their commitment to liberal values such as equality regardless of ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender.

Despite that, ours is a surprisingly liberal society, considering its tremendous diversity and polarization. We should be proud of those values that enable the members of our society to live together in relative harmony. But we should also continue to fight against chauvinism, bigotry and intolerance.

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