Reality Check: Talkbacks and racism

The first step to ending the alienation felt by Israel’s Arab citizens is to stamp out the casual racism that is so prevalent in Israel.

Israeli Arabs at protest in Jaffa R 390 (photo credit:  REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Israeli Arabs at protest in Jaffa R 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Thankfully, the talkback below on The Jerusalem Post’s website was not representative of the flood of sympathetic messages following last week’s tragic road accident in which five Palestinian schoolchildren and one of their teachers were killed when their school bus collided with a truck on a wet road north of Jerusalem: “ ...given the hateful indoctrination toward Jews which arab [sic] children receive from birth, the likely result of this accident is there will be 10 fewer rock throwing, stabbing or shooting arab terrorists to endanger Jewish lives....”
On the other hand, “ge co” (the cowardly writer of this reprehensible talkback did not have the guts to identify him/herself) was not the only person with such racist feelings. Slogans, posted by viewers, such as “Death to Arabs, why do we help them?” or “Can we send another truck” could be found on the Facebook pages of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Wallah website and that of the Israel Police.
Within Israel and the Jewish world, we have countless institutes set up to monitor anti-Semitism.
It seems that every time a Jewish building is daubed with anti-Semitic graffiti, either the government or some major Jewish organization is quick to condemn it and demand an investigation.
And yet here in the Jewish state, racist outpourings against the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, or our Palestinian neighbors, goes unnoticed and unpunished. We have media watchdog organizations that frenetically search the Arab media for evidence of anti-Semitism, but the hateful anti-Arab racism that can be found daily in talkbacks on the major Hebrew-language websites and, regrettably, that of the Jerusalem Post too, at times, is simply shrugged away.
As a child I was taught “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” As we all know, that’s not the case.
Words create an environment that can be harmful in the extreme, and the continuous drip of racist poison into the public arena leads to a casual acceptance of “they’re only Arabs, they deserve it.”
I’M NOT talking here about the despicable “price tag” phenomenon in the West Bank, which has its roots in the disastrous effects the occupation has had on Israeli society and the lethal combination of religious fanaticism and unbridled nationalism that typifies much of the settlement movement.
Rather, I’m concerned about the majority’s casual acceptance of how one-fifth of Israeli society are marked out for “special treatment” in activities that most Israelis take for granted.
Nobody enjoys the security questioning at airports, particularly post-9/11. But for Israeli Arabs flying from Ben-Gurion Airport, or flying back home to Israel via El Al, the questioning takes on a different dimension altogether. It seems the airline security officials are unaware of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) security chief Yoram Cohen’s recent public lecture in which he said: “As a community, Arab Israelis are not a target of Shin Bet. They are not a fifth column and we do not view them as such.”
That’s not how Yara Mashour, editor of the Nazareth-based women’s magazine Lilac, feels after her recent brush with El Al security guards in Madrid. “As soon as they realized we were Arabs, they immediately separated us from the other passengers.
Three security people started asking us questions. At first, we considered it to be routine, but it went on and on.” Then, the guards separated each member of the party and demanded that Mashour follow the security agents to another part of the airport for a body search.
It was at this point that Mashour gave up, and chose to reschedule her flight and return to Israel via Istanbul and a Turkish airline. As Mashour noted, “In Turkey we went through the usual check and amazingly, the plane reached Israel safely and did not blow up.”
If Mashour, a high-profile Israeli Arab, can be treated in this way, it’s clear that other Israeli-Arab travelers will also suffer similar humiliations and receive a reminder that they are second-class citizens each time they seek to leave or travel to the country that is their home.
In his Tel Aviv lecture, Shin Bet head Cohen noted that the involvement of Israeli-Arabs “in terror is not great.... The problems with Arab Israelis are complex, but they are not security problems.
They are alienation, integration, employment, poor municipal management, crime and drugs.”
These problems are indeed complex and will not be solved overnight. But the first step to ending the alienation felt by Israel’s Arab citizens is to stamp out the casual racism that is so prevalent in Israel: in the discourse on mainstream websites, in chants on the soccer terraces and at Ben-Gurion Airport. No country can claim to be successful if 20% of its population feels, with good reason, that they are treated as second-class citizens by the majority.
The writer is a former editor-inchief of The Jerusalem Post.