Friday, December 05, 2008

Can we Create a Tolerant Society in Israel?

Here is a topic that has been troubling me for a number of weeks. It started with this video.

It is pretty gruesome watching. It shows Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint taunting a kneeling bound and blindfolded Palestinian. They are doing it for fun. I watch the video and I am embarrassed. How can our soldiers humiliate and torture a fellow human being. These people have crossed a dangerous line.

So, I was watching this video and I showed it to my wife. I remarked, "look what happens when you have absolute power over another individual!" To which she replied: "It's not about power. These kids are just plain rascist."

My feeling was that when you put 19 yr olds in that powerful situation, there is bound to be abuse."The Occupation Corrupts!" - so goes the slogan, and I believe that it has great potential to do so. I know that i will be talking to my son as he nears enlistment age as to the respect to be given to any human being.

But my wife had a point. Is it just plain old Racism?

which brings me to the next point. Obama! I, like many others, was delighted when Obama won. I won't go into all the reasons but we all realised that this was Historic. After slavery, after seperate busses and park benches, a black man would be the President of the United States. what a victory for tolerance and equal rights. what a success for the civil rights movement! But it took years! It took over 100 years to get that process happening. It took marches and protests and legislation and lobbying, and positive discrimination and television to create black heroes (and presidents - see 24 for example which I imagine DID influence people that a black man could be president.)

Now, lets get back to Israel. we know that Israel is not an equal society. Arab schools are horribly underfunded. Some villages don't have running water. Arabs are not represented in government ministries and offices. It is certainly true that in Hospitals, Arab doctors and nurses are well represented and Arab patients get exactly the same treatment as Jews. We ARE an equal society! And yet, it is clear that Arabs have a way to go before we treat them on equal ground.

And now I am conflicted. Because on the one hand, I do have to be honest that I do NOT want to see the Arabs gaining absolute equality here. See this piece from Daniel Gordis in this week's Jpost (article link):

"...while Israel must absolutely strive to make race a non-issue (even among Jews, as with Ethiopians, for example) and to accord Israeli Arabs a significantly greater piece of the pie, we ought to be honest: If Israel one day were to have a Knesset in which a majority of the members were Arab, Israel will have failed in its purpose. ISRAEL WAS established as the sole country in which the Jews could flourish as only a majority culture..."

I will add more. If Israeli Arabs do make it to equality , the intermarriage rate will shoot up here. Is that what we want? Do we want a country in which Arab culture is absolutely equal to Jewish culture?

So can we really do both? Can we try to give genuine opportunity and equality to Arabs, stamp out Racism and bigotry and separation? Or, if we wish to remain a Jewish society will we only go so far? After all, the American model created genuine equality, embraced multi-ethnic marriage, dreamed of an American president. Do we? I think not! The American model took 100 years. (Did you hear Obama as he spoke in his victory speech about Ann Nixon-Cooper, the 106 yr old lady?) Do we have 50 years?

But if we don't do that, are we destined to a future of soldiers taunting Arabs?

How does an Israeli-Arab feel when we talk about the Arab birthrate as a "demographic threat" to the existence of the Jewish state. Would they be wrong to imply that we effectively resent every arab baby born! Is that Racism? - even left wing MK's talk that way.

Neither extremes are acceptable. Is the middle ground a possibility? A Jewish state which is still Jewish but absolutely tolerant?

Even European countries after 9/11 and after the bombings in London began to examine whether their Islamic minorities were a threat to the hegemony and tradition of their cultural heritages. On the one hand is equality, tolerance and multiculturalism. On the other hand is the right of a country to continue to exist - culturally - as its majority population wish it to exist. In many European countries, the very raising of the question was so controversial that it simply could not be discussed. But I feel that this is what we are facing.

The calls are growing to giving Arabs full representation in Israel, calls for equality and full acceptance; co-existence, it is called.

Can the Jewish State afford that?

But if we don't are we condemned to a continuation of ugly Racism?


I would just like to add a comment here. after I posted this, I realised that despite giving this much thought, there may be some naieve thinking here. after all, I imagine that despite Obama's election, there are still many rascist pockets of American society. Likewise, many Israelis ARE respectful and tolerant, and isolated incidents cannot be brought to prove the rule. And yet despite that, there is a feeling here that Arabs sometimes get the thin end of the wedge.

Much of this has to do with the "conflict". Some say that Israeli arabs will never be able to feel part of Israel nor us Israelis trust them until there is a resolution of the Palestinian conflict. In the meantime we are torn between seeing them as full citizens and seeing them as a fifth column of sorts. They are torn between Israel where they want to live and their Palestinian cousins, and certainly, there is evidencxe of radicalisation amongst Israeli Arabs.

I am not looking to be simplistic here. Once again I reiterate... coming from a Western culture and mindset that celebrates tolerance and equality, the question of how to instill these values and actualise them here in Israel seems far more complex and fraught with difficulty. Sometimes its difficult to even know precisely what we wish to achieve.

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