As part of their campaigning over two years’ worth of recurrent elections, the members of the Religious Zionist Otzma Yehudit party tried to convince the people of Israel that they had “repented” and shed their racist stripes.
But statements from the last few days arouse serious concern that the scourge of racism has penetrated deep beneath the skin of their ideological flesh. It is incumbent on all those who hold dear the State of Israel and the settlement in Judea and Samaria to denounce these statements and to raise an “iron wall” in front of the racists.
This is a moral and ethical duty. If we do not follow this path, we will pay a heavy price within Israeli society – and externally before the world.
How has racism penetrated into the ideology of Otzma Yehudit, Religious Zionist Party?
Imagine the US Secretary of Homeland Security declaring that “my right, my wife’s and my children’s right to walk the streets of Manhattan comes before the right of movement of Black people,” or the Dutch Public Security Minister stating that “Muslims should stay in their neighborhoods like inmates in a prison,” or the British Education Minister saying that “we must not transfer money to the Jewish community to finance their education because it does not speak to our Christian base.”
All of these statements, certainly those that deal with Jews, would immediately be considered racist or seriously antisemitic. They would be denounced, and rightly so. Statements with the same stench were made this week by government ministers. They are a continuation of the racist spirit that has polluted Otzma Yehudit since the dawn of its existence. It has infected some of the Religious Zionist Party, who, over the years have espoused a partisan and political vision with clearly racist characteristics, such as its willingness to maintain a regime of ethnic segregation and run roughshod over the political rights of the other.
According to the Israeli Penal Code, racism is defined as “persecution, humiliation, degradation, a display of enmity, hostility or violence, or causing violence against segments of the population or individuals, due to their color or their belonging to a particular race or their national ethnic origin.”
Because racism is reprehensible, it is a criminal offenses are in place to combat it and mitigate its malevolent impact. More importantly, the Israeli legislature sought to rid the political system of racism and stipulated in the election laws that a party, list, or candidate that acts in a racist manner or attempts to promote racism cannot stand for election in Israel. Even after the elections, the Knesset Presidium can block racist bills from the Knesset table, thus eradicating racism at the root.
But a civilized and healthy society with values cannot leave the fight against racism to the safety net of the law. The historical and global reality, as well as studies carried out over the years, shows that members of groups have an innate proclivity for racism, that is, to impose collective discrimination on members of different groups, or to tar them with negative characterizations. This reality is all too well known to us as members of the Jewish people.
The hatred of Jews that has haunted us as a people, and continues to dog us with persecution even today, is a fire burning in the flesh of every Jew. Unfortunately, antisemitism has become embedded in the identity of the Jewish state and of individual Jews – whether they encounter it personally or not, there is no escape from the awareness of the existence of Jew-hatred.
The challenge of fighting racism intensified significantly under the difficult circumstances of Israeli life, going back to the beginning of the Zionist enterprise.
The Arabs of the Land of Israel saw us as foreign interlopers – and many still do. It is true that some of them have given up their ambition to fight against the State of Israel. But there are others among them – even if a minority nevertheless – who are quite willing to kill us, and do so as often as they can, with the not insignificant support of some of their brethren who do not actively take part in acts of terrorism.
In this complex reality, where some are more than willing to kill us, slipping into racism can be a great temptation.
This tendency to racism sometimes, unfortunately, also wears religious garb. The late ultra-nationalist rabbi Meir Kahane who founded the Kach party (denominated a terror group in 2005) and the followers of his wretched path reduced the Torah of Israel to hatred of the other.
Therefore, in order to eradicate the scourge of racism, constant public and educational action is required. It is the duty of leaders, rabbis, and educators – in fact the duty of each one of us – to act toward that end. We must constantly remind ourselves that alongside the determined fight against terrorism and against those who seek to harm us and our country, it is our duty to act in a moral and fair way and to avoid the damaging and dangerous shadow of racism.
In the face of racist statements, it is obligatory that rabbis and leaders cry foul, at least as loudly as they cry out against other injustices.
In no uncertain terms, it must be demonstrated to the Israeli public at home and to those who look at us from the outside that racism has no place among us. If we act this way, the Religious Zionist camp can be refreshed and improved, and at the same time, settlement in Judea and Samaria and throughout the State of Israel will enjoy greater resilience.
The writer is a lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center.