Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 25, 2012 - 12:00am

Nice to make your acquaintance, we're racist and pro-apartheid. The poll whose results were published in Haaretz on Tuesday, conducted by Dialog and commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund, proved what we always knew, if not so bluntly. It's important to recognize the truth that has been thrown in our faces and those of the world (where the survey is making waves ). But it's even more important to draw the necessary conclusions from it.

Given the current reality, making peace would be an almost anti-democratic act: Most Israelis don't want it. A just, egalitarian society would also violate the wishes of most Israelis: That, too, is something they don't want. They're satisfied with the racism, comfortable with the occupation, pleased with the apartheid; things are very good for them in this country. That's what they told the pollsters.

Until a courageous leadership arises here, the kind that appears only rarely in history, and tries to change this nationalist, racist mood, there's no point in hoping for change to come from below. It won't come; indeed, it can't come, because it is contrary to the desires of most Israelis. This fact must be recognized.

The world must also recognize this. Those who long to reach an agreement and draw up periodic peace plans must finally recognize that Israelis are plainly telling them, "No thanks, we're not interested." The Arab world must similarly recognize that this survey (and others like it ) is Israel's real Bar-Ilan speech.

It's hard to blame Israelis. Years of brainwashing; the demonization and dehumanization of Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular; coupled with years of vicious terror, have left their scars. What, for heaven's sake, do you want from Israelis, who are exposed daily to the media telling them, for instance, that the recent visit to the Gaza Strip by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who came to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to build roads, is "Qatar for terror" (as the lead headline in yesterday's Hebrew edition of Israel Hayom put it )? Why would they want to make peace with those who for decades have been systematically portrayed to them seeking only to annihilate them?

Why would the average Israeli agree to have an Arab student in his child's class or an Arab family in his apartment building if he has never met an Arab and knows of them only as terrorists, criminals or primitive people - the only images of Arabs to which he has been exposed? Why would he think that discrimination against Arabs by government ministries is a bad thing if the only reality he knows is one where Arabs are sewer workers or street sweepers, and he doesn't know that Arabs are capable of more than that?

After all, even secular Israelis, who displayed the most tolerant views in the survey, don't actually know who they're talking about. When have they ever met an Arab? When have their children met one? And if they have, what kind of Arab have they met besides the delivery boy from the grocery store, the owner of the neighborhood greengrocer, the car-wash employee, Ahmed the plasterer or scaffolding builder? And that's without even talking about Palestinians: The last time (and also the first ) they met a Palestinian, if ever, was during their army service, through the sight of a rifle, as a suspicious and dangerous object.

Nevertheless, this brainwashing doesn't absolve Israelis of responsibility. It's true that the education system, and even more so the media, incite and inflame, sow hatred and fear. But they do so to conform to their audience's tastes. It's a depressingly vicious circle, in which it isn't clear which came first.

After all, if the Israeli media thought their brainwashing was repulsive to its customers they would long since have abandoned it. But it knows its customers' hearts. The political establishment, too, understands the nature of the beast. That's why we are now caught in a mad, dizzying race to the right: Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is vying with Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich over who is more right-wing.

Thus the situation can't be excused on the grounds of incitement: Israelis are always happy to be incited against the Arab from Baka or the Palestinian from the casbah. Ratings-conscious media and politicians facing primary battles are only hitching a ride on them.

One-third of Israelis want to deny Arab citizens the right to vote; about half of Israelis favor a policy of "transferring" Arabs out of the country; and a majority says there is apartheid here. We need to finally give up on the hope that things will get better.


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