Fighting racism as a component in regaining public trust

Herzog said that he appreciated the opportunity to engage in a genuine discussion about the challenge of battling and eliminating racism and discrimination.

200 people gathered in Jerusalem's Independence Park to protest against racism and violence. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
200 people gathered in Jerusalem's Independence Park to protest against racism and violence.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Real or perceived racism among various elements is driving a wedge through society.

This is something that causes grave concern to President Isaac Herzog and to Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who met on Wednesday at the President’s Residence to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Sa’ar was accompanied by the Government Unit for the Coordination of the Struggle Against Racism, which operates out of the Justice Ministry, and includes State Prosecutor Amit Eisman, Justice Ministry Director-General Eran Davidi and Education Ministry Deputy Director-General Avi Ganon.

The event was also attended by the president’s wife, Michal, who is a criminal lawyer by profession.

Herzog said he appreciated the opportunity to engage in a genuine discussion about the challenge of battling and eliminating racism and discrimination. “There are deep scars in Israeli society,” he declared. “It’s a pain that refuses to subside, the pain of those who have been pushed aside, marginalized and discriminated against.”

 Despite the pandemic, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict endures. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Despite the pandemic, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict endures. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

He also noted the growing public distrust of government institutions and insisted that everything possible must be done to restore public confidence, and prove that every citizen, no matter his or her skin color, ethnicity, kippah (or no kippah), gender, nationality, or sexuality – merits equal treatment, equal service, equal recognition in state institutions on behalf of us all, as part of the nation’s sovereignty and government.

For this to happen, Herzog continued, we must extend a hand that expresses compassion. Moreover, it is important to look inward and ask what examples are being set for children. “We must free ourselves from worldviews that we absorbed in the past, views that are not anchored in reality and serve only divisions and racism,” said Herzog. “We must take responsibility. We are only at the start of the road, and the challenges are great, but there is no doubt that we are in the right direction.”

Sa’ar concurred: “It is necessary to consistently and perpetually cultivate relations between the groups that comprise Israeli society while building a sense of solidarity and shared life between them and bravely confronting the scourge of racism. The story of this Festival of Freedom includes not only the physical aspect of the exodus from Egypt, an exodus from slavery, but also, perhaps most importantly, a transition from a state of mental slavery, passivity and acceptance of fate to a state of mental liberty, of action and progress. We must adhere to the practice of ‘and you shall tell your children.’”

Stressing that education against racism must begin at an early age, Ganon said: “The struggle against racism starts with educational work, and as the ministry responsible for the education of Israel’s children, we must establish the issue of fighting racism from a young age. “In this context, Ganon spoke of the role of the Committee for Coexistence, which was founded at the initiative of Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, for the purpose of helping to create a diverse society, a society of equal rights for all, with education being the main engine of the creation of an equal and balanced society.