I’ve always believed, perhaps contrary to popular thought, that racism is a very human trait, and that a little racist hides in every one of us – in some, more than others. Anyone claiming otherwise, I fear, is a hypocrite.
Defining our identity by differentiating ourselves from the “other” is part and parcel of being human. But the question has always been how one acts and behaves, as an individual and as part of society, with this intrinsic characteristic. Some societies, due to various objective or subjective circumstances, are more prone to exhibit this trait than others.
It seems the headlines from the past two weeks in Israel were meant to offer us one mirror after another, starting with an amusement park setting different opening hours for Jews and Arabs, continuing with an Arab taxi driver being physically attacked in Jerusalem, and ending with a bank refusing to open a bank account for an Arab. Readers of this blog know that this is not the first post dealing with similar seemingly isolated incidents, and it’s hard not to connect the dots and paint a very worrying picture of Israel in 2013.
So as usual, we deplore and condemn these incidents as they hit the news, and pay the right lip service to help us deal with that annoying nagging in our brain called our conscience. But that is where things end. We insist on avoiding any serious soul searching that might actually lead us to come to terms with who we are and what we have become, and rethink the direction in which this country is headed. No one is innocent in this case, including the author of these words.
The underlying reasons for what has already become a national reflex abound, but first and foremost, I believe that objective historical facts have caused subjective psychological processes resulting in aggressive or violent societal behavioral patterns. Suffering from tons of insecurity, Israelis have built a macho overly – confident, exclusive and forceful identity, that automatically challenges the legitimacy of other identities, and that leaves little room for sympathy, never mind empathy with the “other’. As if in a zero-sum game, where the other’s gains can only be our losses, we fear that by acknowledging alternative narratives we risk dissolving our own narrative.
Suffering from a painful history of racial discrimination and persecution, we have traditionally claimed the moral high-ground. But can we continue to do so if we cannot make room for other groups within our own society, never mind people with other national or ethnic backgrounds?
If we want to make Israel a better place, we must make a brave attempt to understand the ways in which our collective history and heritage continue to shape our subjective perception of other people. We have to learn, listen to, and make an effort to understand and communicate with – other narratives.
Only a reconciled and inclusive society will have the confidence to make the painful concessions needed to make peace with the Palestinians.
Given, it’s easier said than done. The best place to start is the education system. Bursting out in laughter during a speech in the Knesset last week, the new Education Minister showed a flair for the unusual and potential for out-of-the-box thinking. If we don’t see a serious effort by his ministry to fight racism, sewing together the fraying seams in the Israeli society will be an almost impossible task.
Poles Apart/ Pink Floyd
Did you know . . . it was all going to go so wrong for you
And did you see it was all going to be so right for me
Why did we tell you then
You were always the golden boy then
And that you’d never lose that light in your eyes
Hey you . . . did you ever realize what you’d become
And did you see that it wasn’t only me you were running from
Did you know all the time but it never bothered you anyway
Leading the blind while I stared out the steel in your eyes
The rain fell slow, down on all the roofs of uncertainty
I thought of you and the years and all the sadness fell away from me
And did you know . . .
I never thought that you’d lose that light in your eyes