Shabbat Goy: Color Politics

Until now, I’d assumed that we could all muddle along together in an uneasy peace. Now,I’m not so sure.

Color Politics  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Color Politics
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When over-excitable acquaintances from elsewhere ask if Israel is an apartheid state, etc., my answer is simple: as far as the Western world is concerned, Tel Aviv is the only city I know of in which I can walk down any street without the fear of being jumped on – or worse – because of my color; Tel Aviv is the only city I know of where the first empty taxi I hail will stop and take me to my destination, no questions asked.
Yeah, disappointing, I know, but why assume that I have dreadful horror stories to tell just because of my color? But then Danny Danon and Miri Regev decided to go walkabout in south Tel Aviv.
A couple of days later, I heard about an event called “Sudanim le Sudan!” (Sudanese to Sudan) in south Tel Aviv, and decided to tag along. Purely selfish reasons, of course; I do need to know whether the bigotry that the event would indubitably attract goes together with with my desire to live my life as I please. Until now, I’d assumed that we could all muddle along together in an uneasy peace. Now, I’m not so sure.
As is often the case with these things, the audience by far outstripped the participants. About 30 people congregated at Tel Aviv’s central bus station, waving the yellow-and-black of Kach and the blue-and-white of Israel; a similar number of noisy lefties held across the street by the police. And almost outnumbering them all, journalists and film crews in search of a fight or an indiscreet MK. As the spartan affair wends its way through the Shapira neighborhood, a woman shouts hysterically at anyone who would listen.
It’s about her young daughter, and how the Africans have stolen her birthright, her future. Her distress is convincing, even more so when there is a camera or a notepad within range. But then she ruins it all. Spying a dark-skinned family watching from their courtyard, she hurls racially charged invective in their direction.
“But we’re Jewish,” a little girl replies, “where do you want us to go?” My excitable friend scratches her head and wanders off, momentarily silenced.
I’m one of those strange people who believe in the right to free speech, albeit with a couple of red lines: no incitement to violence, no claims of innate racial superiority. That people do have the right to make outrageous statements in support of their ethnic chauvinism, I accept: it’s the price we pay for living in a democracy. But there must be a limit. And that’s the problem of the moment.
Take Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s latest outburst, for example: a magnificently speculative construct sweeping aside statistical facts to tie up migrants, Jewish maidens and the specter of AIDS in one huge, sordid conspiracy theory.
Let’s ignore the historical antecedents to this kind of behavior; If this irresponsible farrago of dishonesty and conjecture isn’t incitement to violence, I’m not sure what is. My sole consolation is that Minister Yishai is a man of God. I sincerely hope that he is at peace with himself, because one day he will have to answer to an authority higher than us all about how far he went in chasing undeclared votes.
(What is it with Yishai and diseases and sexual relations, anyway? A Freudian will have lots of fun with the guy, I suspect.) If you’re inclined to discount the connection between the political poison of the moment and the violence on the streets: a pimply youth approaches me, shouting illiterate filth in two languages. Against my better judgment – but still determined to test my place on the street – I reply that I happen to have as much right as the next Jew to be in Israel.
“Ah, so you rape too, do you?” He lurches towards me, fists clenched, veins bulging. “Dirty pedophile.”
Unfortunately, he’s almost a head shorter than me.
He might have made a more convincing threat otherwise.
Still, my companion tugs at me and I turn away. Confrontation avoided.
Let’s be clear about this: I don’t see loitering on the margins of a right-wing protest as brave or heroic. It’s merely the simple principles of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. You can gather where you want and say – more or less – what you please. The same right should be available to me.
Anything less, anything that proposes that Jews have more rights than others – and without even the veneer of legal correctness that applies on the other side of the Green Line, for example – and we’re all done for. Actually, you’ll all be done for, because I won’t be here then, will I? The demonstration, now numbering about 200, reaches its final destination on Kibbutz Galuyot Road. Loud, noisy, attention seeking. Like all political discourse in Israel, essentially. I start to chat with a reporter. I should be careful, he cautions. An Ethiopian guy – an Ethiopian Jew – was assaulted by protesters a little while ago.
His phone rings and he apologizes as he takes the call. It’s activist and parliamentary aide Itamar Ben- Gvir, responsible for this evening’s proceedings. Ben- Gvir is upset with the reporter because he hasn’t called him up for a quote. I try not to laugh. These things are important.
The demonstration draws to a close, and I start to make my way back to the central bus station and my bus home. I walk through Shapira neighborhood.
Well-lit, quiet, a few kids playing safely on the streets. It’s actually quite a nice place, and I don’t for a moment feel afraid or threatened. But I’d forgotten: I’m the one who is supposed to be the risk, no? Mrs. Goy is on the phone, imploring me to take a taxi home, and now. She’d heard about the passerby who’d been assaulted. I reassure her that I have a Star of David somewhere about my person, but she’s not amused. A cab is passing by, and I wave it down.
“Where are you going?” he asks. I tell him and hop in. Well, at least the taxis still stop for me. One should be grateful about some things, no?