Linda Heard
Arab News (Opinion)
January 24, 2012 - 1:00am

A large chunk of my childhood and early youth was spent in a predominantly Jewish area of London called Stamford Hill. It was pure chance that upon relocating to the English capital, my parents found a small apartment to their liking in that part of town. Our landlord and neighbors were Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe. My school friends came from European and Indian Jewish stock. My mother bought seed-encrusted loaves from a Jewish bakery Grodzinky's and salt beef sandwiches from our local Jewish deli. It was, therefore, little wonder that I imbibed stories of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, the horrors of Soviet anti-Jewish pogroms — as well as the Zionist narrative regarding the Jewish state or “poor little Israel surrounded by Arabs intent on its destruction.”

As a young person who generally avoided confrontation I surprised myself one afternoon. While riding in a packed bus, I saw two middle-aged Jewish ladies haranguing a fellow passenger, a Greek-Cypriot woman who spoke little English. I didn't know what the row was about but when one of the Jewish women yelled at the Cypriot, saying, “You should go back to your own country”, I leapt up from my seat enraged. “You who know what it's like to be victimized should be the last people to persecute others. Where do you come from? Germany? Poland?” I shouted. I know now how naïve it was to somehow believe that people who have been the target of racism/bigotry would be more compassionate, more sensitive, than others.

As soon as I calmed down I rationalized that the impolite women must be the exceptions that prove the rule but that conclusion altered dramatically when I visited Tel Aviv during the mid-1970s when the first question out of the mouths of almost everyone I was introduced to was, “Are you Jewish?” Moreover, I witnessed firsthand how Jews from Arab lands were treated as second-class citizens by the wealthier and more educated Ashkenazim. Yemeni, Iraqi and Moroccan Jews were herded into virtual ghettoes, discriminated against in the job place and, at that time, inter-marriage between Mizrahi Jews and Ashkenazi Jews was frowned upon. Even more disturbing was the disrespect shown to Arab Israelis, considered by Israelis to be the enemy within the gates.

Today, I consider anyone who denies that Israel is a racist state to be deluded, politically motivated or downright deceptive. There is not only a racist thread running through Israeli society, racism has become institutionalized by the government and the judiciary under the pretext of security. Unfortunately, the international community tends to turn a blind eye to Israel's discriminatory practices.

Before the 2001 Durban Declaration charging Israel with racism was set to be reaffirmed at UN “Durban III” last September, nine of Israel's allies, including the US and Canada, chose to boycott the conference. If any other nation on earth behaved like Israel it would be shunned, treated as a pariah in the way that apartheid South Africa once was but Washington ensures that even discussing Israeli racism is almost as taboo as Holocaust denial. Yet when one of the Republican frontrunners Newt Gingrich refers to the Palestinians as “an invented people” who espouse terrorism, which is just about the most racist comment anyone could make, the voters in South Carolina give him the thumbs up. If he had described Israeli Jews as an invented people, not only would his political career have been dead and buried by now he would be a media hate-figure, an anti-Semite, a neo-Nazi.

Such willful international myopia has given a succession of Israeli governments a free hand to implement racist laws designed to tackle the country's “demographic bomb” by encouraging Arab Israelis to leave and the slow racial-cleansing of east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

For instance, Israel's High Court recently ratified an amendment to the Citizenship Law relating to family unification after earlier ruling that it was unconstitutional. In essence, the law denies a family life to Arab Israelis married to Palestinians because their non-Israeli spouses are barred from residency in Israel — and in the case of Palestinian men under 35 years old and women younger than 25 cannot even get permits allowing short-term visits. When an Arab Israeli decides to move with his or her spouse to the West Bank the loss of state social benefits is a given but Israeli West Bank colonists are still entitled to theirs. There are even cases of some children of such unions receiving Israeli citizenship while other children in the same family are denied it.

Other proposed laws include one that would end the status of Arabic as one of Israel's official languages and another that would punish Israeli citizens, including Arab Israelis, for refusing to pledge their allegiance to “Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” How humiliating would it be for those Arabs, whose claim to the land goes back long before the waves of Jewish immigrants began, to have to swear allegiance to the very people who took it from them with the UN's blessing.

Not only is racism inherent within Israeli society — as Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in Kiryat Malachi barred from renting or buying apartments and labeled by the immigrant absorption minister as insufficiently grateful to Israel are currently experiencing — the Jewish state is using racism as a tool to reduce its Arab Israeli population.

Instead of following the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, Israelis are doing to others what was done to them and shredding their own moral fiber in so doing. I'll bet even some of their own Zionist pioneers are turning in their graves.


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