The Interior Minister of Israel, Eli Yishai declares to the African immigrants to Israel:
"Most of the people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.”
Ironically, the minister’s own family comes from Tunisia, which last time I checked was an African country. And the majority of the immigrants are actually Christian, not Muslim. Yet there is little mistaking the racist attitude the populist minister reflects, something which sadly is gaining prominence by the day in Israel.
This profoundly vile and racist statement reveals, yet again, the real tensions that exist in Israel, exposing it to be something far from the "only real democracy" in the region that Israel’s apologists would like for us to see. These statements reveal just how far we have to go to see the day where Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in equal rights and status. These statements are not coming from a rightwing blogger, but rather by one of the highest ranking Israeli officials. Yishai is both the Interior Minister and one of four deputy prime ministers of Israel. The statement has been covered by many African media outlets, but has been left out of all American media outlets.
There are, fortunately, many in Israel who do not share this racist view, such as that of Orit Marom, advocacy coordinator at the Tel Aviv-based Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers (ASSAF): "Yishai wants to show at any price that he put a few black people on the plane and call it a deportation. He doesn’t care that it will cost the lives of children. This is the opposite of Judaism. As a Jewish person, I can tell you that this is not to be Jewish, not at all, it’s just the opposite of the main values of Judaism.”
These are the voices that we in the United States should be honoring, and heeding.
Like all religious traditions, Judaism is not a monolithic tradition. There are those who claim to speak in God’s name, and see blessing and rights as their own monopoly. And there are those who see their tradition as one that stands for justice towards all, including the neighbor and the stranger.
Yet religion is not the same as nationality. In fact the very conflation of the two, whether in Israel (with Judaism), Iran (with Islam), India (with Hinduism), or United States (with Christianity), is only something that can be accomplished through a bitter rhetorical and real violence and marginalization of the minority communities who do not “fit.” Eli Yishai’s racist statement is something that can be traced to the very origin of the Zionist movement, which sought the support of colonial powers and the oppression and expulsion of the indigenous population to achieve their nationalistic goals.
Even the very process of “How the Jews became White Folks” is the subject of a fascinating study (by Karen Brodkin), and something that was itself the subject of a historical process, and not a given. Regardless, it is up to people of good faith everywhere, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and secular people, to reject the racist language of Yishai, and strive for an inclusive and just policy of nationhood everywhere.
For those of us who yearn to see the day where Jews, Muslims, and Christians live side by side in peace in the Holy Land, we have to insist that these racist kinds of attitude are as much of an obstacle as any acts of terrorism.