Has racism become acceptable?

As a proud Israeli, born and raised here, I find the silence emanating from the higher echelons in the face of incitement and defamation insulting and saddening

December 20, 2010 23:48
2 minute read.
SAFED CHIEF Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu

Eliyahu 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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Discussions with racist flavors are gaining a central role in general discourse. The moderate public is increasingly aligning itself more with opinions that were previously reserved for radical elements, giving them a level of legitimacy within the mainstream public and media to articulate them.

The now famous rabbis’ letter is just one of many examples of the growing racist opinions spreading throughout large sections of the public. The problem lays not within the racists themselves, but rather in the weak response from the higher echelons and decision-makers. Hundreds of rabbis sign a manifesto prohibiting Jews from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews, yet no response is heard from the justice minister. The chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliahu, continuously incites and no criminal or disciplinary procedures were commenced against him.

The feeling is that racism has become acceptable; not only by society but also by a government that has not taken any action but to oppose it feebly (and this, only from a few ministers).

As a proud Israeli, born and raised here, and serving as a public representative, I find this reality insulting and it saddens me. I raised my children to believe that they are citizens with equal rights, but today we encounter a different reality, a reality in which is legitimate to defame in the name of religion.

THIS REALITY is difficult for me personally, but it is more dangerous to the country, as society unravels from within, and invokes defamation from abroad. Internally, we are becoming a series of disconnected tribes.

As the Knesset representative to and vice chairman of the Euro- Mediterranean Partnership Committee, I see firsthand how Israel’s standing in the world is deteriorating. This is not to speak of Arab countries and some of their allies, nor of the Scandinavian countries who always took a harsh stance against us, but many in the European Union.

The situation is far worse when we see those in Europe who we call “our friends” – starting with Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who campaigns to stop Islamization and frequently visits, and to Heinz Christian Strache, who ousted the late Jörg Haider as the Austrian Freedom Party leader and who last week came to Samaria for a solidarity visit with the settlers.

When the central leadership of Europe turns its back on Israel, we take comfort in the arms of radicals, just because they prefer at this stage to pursue Muslims rather than Jews.

It’s time to stop and rethink before it is too late. We must consider if this is the society we want, if the current tone is worthy of expression and if these are the people worthy of our friendship.

My answer is definitely not. The State of Israel is too important to be pushed to the corner of extreme racism. To prevent it from deteriorating, the prime minister and the justice minister should set a clear and unequivocal statement that the government will embrace a zerotolerance policy toward racism, a statement that needs to be backed by actions.

The writer is a deputy speaker of the Knesset and a Kadima MK.

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