Anastasia Michaeli 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
This month’s events produced at least four news items that appear to relate to
racism and intolerance – two of them concerning manifestations of alleged racism
against Arabs, and the other two related to alleged racism within Jewish Israeli
First up was MK Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beiteinu), who
threw a glass of water at MK Ghaleb Majadle (Labor) during a Knesset Education
Committee meeting about an Arab school principal who took his pupils to a human
On the face of it, Michaeli’s action (which earned
her a suspension from Knesset meetings for a month and censure by the Knesset
and her party) had nothing to do with the fact that Majadle is Arab. But her
previous record casts a troubling light on the act.
Even before being
elected to the Knesset, Michaeli criticized the selection of a certain Jewish
Israeli singer to represent Israel at Eurovision because “she looks Arab,” and
as an MK she has spoken out and acted in an aggressive manner against Arabs, in
strong contrast to her gentle demeanor when it comes to her Jewish political
rivals. In that context, her attack on MK Majadle may legitimately be
considered as “racist.”
Second, the High Court of Justice ratified an
amendment to the Citizenship Law that prevents the spouses of Israeli Arab
citizens who come from the West Bank and Gaza from settling in Israel. The court
overturned a previous interim ruling that struck down the amendment as
The new ruling gave greater weight to the tension that
exists between Israel’s legitimate security concerns (that potential terrorists
could gain access to Israeli population centers via fictitious marriages to
Israelis) as well as its understandable demographic concerns, and the basic
right of every human being to freely choose a marriage partner, and live with
him or her in one’s own country (in this case Israel). Though none of the six
justices who voted in favor of the new ruling can be suspected of racism, the
end result may be construed as racist.
Third, many Ethiopian immigrants
were appalled by Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver’s (Yisrael Beitenu)
criticism that Ethiopian immigrants are not sufficiently grateful to Israel.
Speaking at a Knesset Immigration Committee session that dealt with the refusal
to rent or sell apartments to Ethiopians in Kiryat Malachi, Landver did not deny
that discrimination against Ethiopians in Kiryat Malachi and elsewhere is an
unbearable manifestation of racism. But she resented a suggestion by Ethiopian
community activists that her ministry was somehow to blame for the phenomenon.
Activists, for their part, condemned the remarks as being
Landver, who is trying to deal with the many problems connected
with the Ethiopian immigrants, and with members of the Falash Mura still
awaiting aliya, to the best of her ability, was justifiably insulted by such
accusations. However, as the saying goes, she should have chosen to be
wise, not technically correct, and given the heated atmosphere at the meeting,
she should have avoided the condescending remarks.
Then there is the case
of Shlomo Maoz, the former chief economist of the Excellence Nessuah investment
firm, who spoke out against Ashkenazi dominance in many walks of life. Maoz’s
feelings are not atypical of many educated and successful Sephardi Israelis who,
despite their achievements and success, still feel there is a glass ceiling for
them. They resent the continued dominance of the Ashkenazi elite of institutions
such as the Supreme Court, the universities, and some economic institutions such
as Bank Leumi, and accuse this elite of continuing discrimination.
it is undeniable that anti-Sephardi racism continues to linger within certain
Ashkenazi circles, Maoz’s aggressive anti-Ashkenazi rhetoric (and that of
members of Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit, an NGO made up of intellectuals of
Arab-country origin) itself smacks of racism. Too frequently this rhetoric turns
into unbridled personal insults, which merely strengthen negative stereotyping
on the other side.
The collection of these incidents may suggest that
Israel is undergoing a tsunami of racism, but that is probably overstated. A
closer look at each of these events shows that they are not a manifestation of a
single phenomenon, but are rather due to a highly complex reality of unresolved
issues, all of which appear on the surface to have certain racist
In short, on the basis of last week’s events, one cannot
label the State of Israel as an outright racist state, but it would certainly
benefit from a little less prejudice and a little more tolerance.
writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset
employee for many years.