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Israel deputy Prime Minister:  Israel Belongs to Us, the White Man

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.”   

This interview was widely reported in Israel, including in the most popular periodical, Haaretz.

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.

Tags: africans, immigrants, israel, muslims, palestinians, racism, racist, white man, zionism


  1. I agree with almost everything you said. My disagreement comes with your beliefs about the beginnings of Zionism. While I can’t speak for all Zionists. I can say that the vast majority of Zionists did not seek the oppression or the expulsion of the indigenous population.

    The Zionist goal was to have one tiny little spot on the planet where Jews could control their own destiny and be safe. I can live in America because Israel exists.

    Also, Jews are a people as well as a religion. It is perfectly possible to be a Jewish atheist or agnostic.

  2. dear Susan, thank you for your kind and gracious comments.  I certainly see your point about Jews as a people as well as Judaism being a religion.

    About the first point, it is a bit more complicated. Certainly Zionism had a liberal tradition, imbued with forms of socialism, etc. [Much of Kibbutz life demonstrates this.]  However, as for the architects of classical Zionism, including Herzl himself, sadly their vision did include the expulsion of the indigenous population. 

    Here is a quote from Herzl’s diary:  “The mass of poor natives were to be expropriated and, he added, “both the expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” This was to be done by “spirit[ing] the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country.” 

    “At first, incidentally,” Herzl writes on the pages describing “involuntary expropriation,” “people will avoid us. We are in bad odor. By the time the reshaping of world opinion in our favor has been completed, we shall be firmly established in our country, no longer fearing the influx of foreigners, and receiving our visitors with aristocratic benevolence and proud amiability.”

    As for the expulsion, or as they preferred to call it, compulsory transfer, there is the well-known statement of David Ben Gurion:  ““I am for compulsory transfer.  I do not see anything immoral in it.”  David Ben-Gurion, to the Jewish Agency Executive, June 1938.

    I could go on, but that will probably be enough to make the point. 

    My own position has always been that the land of Palestine/Israel belongs to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, and our best and only hope for a just peace there is to work for a solution that guarantees equal rights for all people there. 

    all the best, omid safi

    May God bless you, omid

  3. At least it’s equal evil.  Every group has its ugly prejudices, all contradictions of the gods they claim belief in—well, most of them, anyway.  There have been some really ugly gods, too.  All creations of humans who were created by the gods.

  4. Thank you for the excellent posts!

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