Terra Incognita: Racism against Jewish immigrants

If the parties can’t self-diversify and represent all the groups that vote for them, this is a fundamental problem, particularly harmful to Ethiopians.

Ethiopian Israelis demonstrate outside PMO in J'lem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ethiopian Israelis demonstrate outside PMO in J'lem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
When Ziona Mangistu was making her decision to come to Israel no one bothered to tell her that no matter how long she lived in the country, paid her taxes, sent her children to the army, and worked at a government job, in the eyes of a significant portion of Israel she would always be a “cushi”, a “stinking Ethiopian” who “veteran Israelis” would castigate and tell her to “go back to your country.”
It is odd of course, because actually Israel is as much her country as it is Yael Dayan’s or Nurit Peled’s country, or any of the other figures from the elite families; it is as much Mangistu’s country as it is the country of any citizen.
Mangistu worked as a monitor on Israeli school buses and was ordered by the school not to board children who had been suspended from school, along her route in Kiryat Bialik. On October 30th the father of a suspended student boarded the bus and punched her in the face after attacking her with racist slurs and saying, “stinking Ethiopian, we will have you sent back where you came from.” The severity of the attack resulted in Mangistu being hospitalized. When she returned to the school the principal told her not to file a police complaint, she said. After the media and the mayor became aware of the incident, the irate father was momentarily detained by the police and then immediately released to five days of house arrest.
Mangistu’s story encapsulates a small slice of life. Because she is not considered a full part of Israeli society, neither from a “good veteran family”, nor a kibbutz nor the “right neighborhood,” she doesn’t receive the same service as the rest.
If you want to predict how the legal system treats people like Ziona, all you have to do is ask where they came from.
Lest anyone think this is an exaggeration, just recall that Pini Cohen received three years in prison for throwing a shoe at Dorit Beinish, the Supreme Court judge. No one advised Beinisch against reporting the crime; there was no “catch and release” wink-wink, nod-nod for the perpetrator. Why would a school principal advise a government employee, connected to the school, who has been hospitalized after a racist assault. not to file a police complaint? Is it because the principal is friends with, or related to, the attacker or that the employee, Mangistu, has the wrong color skin and comes from the wrong socioeconomic background?
Mangistu’s blood-stained shirt is a symbol of a national sickness in Israel – hatred of immigrants – and ineffective, or corrupt police forces and judges that too often release criminals who have harmed people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Rather than covering up incidents like this, institutions, such as schools must protect their employees. The lack of protest on behalf of this victim and the appeasement of the coward who beats on women are symbols of a society that is quiescent in the face of savagery.
THE KNEE-JERK hatred directed at Mangistu is part of a larger motif. Two weeks ago, after the decision by Likud and Yisrael Beitenu to run on a combined list, the left wing Israeli political party, Meretz, immediately released a campaign poster, at first online, that asked “where were you in the war against the Israeli Putin?” Later the ad appeared on the front of the Israeli daily Haaretz. The attack on “the Israeli Putin” was directed at the national origins of the head of Yisrael Beitenu, Avigdor Liberman.
Because he was born in Russia, some Israelis consider him “Putin,” since he is one of the few Russians Israelis are familiar with. Liberman is slandered as “Putin” because he wasn’t born on a kibbutz, or in Ramat Aviv – a wealthy part of Tel Aviv. As an immigrant he is forever slandered as a foreigner who will threaten our democracy as Prof.
Alexander Yacobson writes, “Israeli democracy is weighed down by Soviet traditions.” The insinuation is that prior to the 1991 mass immigration, Israel was a perfect utopia, and then the evil immigrants ruined it.
It is interesting that the same left that considers itself secular and has no problem eating pork, is the one that mocks Russian voters for Yisrael Beitenu as members of “the pork party.” When Meretz members eat pork it is the good pork, the whiter pork, but when Russians do it, it is considered “foreign.”
With the one hand Israel was run as a one-party state for the first 20 years of its existence and with the other, Israelis – like author Amos Alon – accuse the immigrants of harming democracy, “we know where it comes from. Either from the Arab countries or Eastern Europe.”
This sad truth about the hatred of immigrants, no matter how long they have been in the country, was clear when Amir Oren wrote in his article “A ploy too far” that “Liberman will be the defense minister, hear all the nuclear and intelligence secrets… the movie plot is clear, an immigrant youth from the Soviet Union, the kingdom of the Communist Party and KGB, climbs diligently up the political ladder to make it to the prime minister’s chair.” Thus Levi Eshkol, the Labor party insider, born in the Ukraine who was prime minister in 1967 was not a threat to national security, or perceived as an immigrant spy, but Liberman is. Eshkol was from the good generation of immigrants, like Ben-Gurion; whereas any immigrant who has come since, isn’t fully part of the national narrative.
A SURVEY and study conducted by Dr. Karin Amit showed that immigrants from Ethiopia and Englishspeaking countries feel less Israeli, the more Hebrew they learn. This is because they initially believe, when they receive their identity cards, that they are now citizens.
Even though Ethiopians and English speakers, along with Russians, are disproportionately represented in the Israeli army, they find out that no matter how many of them lay down their lives for their small country, they are not fully accepted as Israelis by a section of society.
David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Golda Meir, they were all of the generation that could become fully Israeli despite being immigrants, but no leader can emerge today, who is considered fully Israeli, who is born abroad. That is why some Israelis respond to an argument with someone like Mangistu with “go back where you came from.” But why should the racist have more rights to the country than Mangistu? Israel must challenge this anti-immigrant rhetoric or it risks sinking under the burden of xenophobic strife.
Inconvenient statistics
Recently there was a great deal of hullabaloo over a poll conducted by the Israela Goldblum fund, crafted by a series of far-left academic activists: Mordechai Bar-On, Amiram Goldblum, Michael Sfard, Alon Liel and Camil Fuchs. The questions were written in such a way as to confuse or lead respondents to support a hypothetical apartheid (the survey was entitled, “Topics of equality and Apartheid”). The poll revealed that 42 percent of Israeli Jews don’t want to have Arabs in their schools or in the same building they live in. The polling data, of only 503 people, was broken down into groups of ultra- Orthodox Jews, Russians and secular Israelis. Even though the surveyors wanted to separate the “new” secular Russians from the “old” secular Israelis, it turns out their answers to many of the questions were remarkably similar.
But lost in the commentary were interesting statistics.
Only 24% of the supposedly “racist” Russians said they were bothered by living in a building with Arabs, whereas 27% of the veteran secular Israelis didn’t want the Arabs sleeping in the next apartment. The decision to make Russians a separate category is motivated by Israeli elite society’s racism, perceiving the Russians as different from “secular” society. Russians have been in Israel for more than 20 years, longer than Israel existed within the pre-1967 Green Line, longer than the period from the First Zionist Congress to the Balfour Declaration, and yet they are still – according to academics like Goldblum, Bar- On and Fuchs – considered separate from the rest of Israel. That is brutal testimony to the “othering” of the Russian immigrants.
Perhaps a more interesting survey would reveal –among academics and intellectuals – under what conditions a Jew born in Russia can ever be considered a “secular Israeli,” and not a “Russian.” Will it only be after he is dead and buried on Mount Herzl that they will call him “Israeli,” or even then will he still be a spy from the Soviet Union? Another statistic that would be interesting to reveal would be: How many Israelis who live in communities where it is impossible for Arabs to live – such as a kibbutz with its acceptance committee – answer survey questions by saying they don’t mind living with Arabs? How many members of kibbutzim whose children all go to the “kibbutz high school”, say they don’t mind Arabs in the school, when they know very well that Arabs are not permitted to attend their school – since Arabs are not permitted to become kibbutz members? If one lives in a community that actively discriminates against Arabs, one shouldn’t be rewarded by being branded “progressive” in a survey for feigning tolerance. A “progressive” society built on segregation cannot be considered less racist than another society that admits its xenophobia.Knesset lists reveal problems as well
Israel’s major political parties conduct primaries to decide who will run in what position on their Knesset lists. Some parties reserve a place for a “new immigrant” or an “Arab, Druse or Beduin.” The existence of these slots seems to illustrate an interest in diversity, but it also reveals the degree to which, without them, the “others” won’t ever be elected on their own. Isawi Freij, a member of Meretz who announced this year that he not going to accept the reserved slot as “the Arab” on the list. If Meretz members don’t elect him for one of the top slots he won’t run.
This should be true for the rest of society. If the parties can’t self-diversify and represent all the groups that vote for them, this is a fundamental problem. It is particularly harmful to Ethiopians. Not only do they not receive a reserved place on the list, there are no parties that actively work hard enough to promote Ethiopians to run for the Knesset. The prospective absence of a black Jew in the next Knesset is a black mark on society as a whole.