Reality Check 2

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



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5 responses to “Reality Check 2”

  1. Anonymous says :

    I hate it when people make a trend out of a few isolated cases. It's so easy to generalize. What about the rest of the world? Racism exists everywhere, and Israel is no exception to this rule. Making it sound as if there is a serious trend against Arab citizens is as wrong as it gets.

  2. Anonymous says :

    This latest blog should be a wake-up call to all who read it. Even if we don't live to, we should try to be tolerant of those who are different from us, but who do live amongst us, whoever they are, but of course, they must be tolerant of us too.

  3. Daniel Berman says :

    Also isolated events, when put together, can make a pretty convincing pattern. Yes, racism exists all over the world, that's precisely the point made here. however there are some subjective circumstances in Israel that make it extremely important that we come to terms with this element in our nature. Internally – bringing Israeli society together, externally – improving the chance for peace.

  4. Eli Sennesh says :

    Here's the thing. Nobody really thinks that we're going to make peace with the Palestinians, soon, or possibly even ever. It really does appear to most of us Israelis that when we go as far as we can for peace, and they go as far as they can, there remain gaps: Jerusalem, refugees, etc. We can't shift further without destroying ourselves; we cannot bring 5 million Arab "refugees" into Israel.Further: all human behavior is subject to incentives, and I don't mean money. If you meet new people and they only respect you for being a complete psychopath, you will learn to act like a complete psychopath. That's the situation Israel is in: if we subject ourselves to the norms of "the nice people", we are told that the nicest thing we can do is slit our throats and be done with it. So we've stopped hanging out with the nice people, and now we're absorbing our social norms from the cruel sociopaths who haven't yet been convinced that we're inhuman monsters worthy of nothing more than extermination.Personally, I include the Americans in that latter group, but that may just be because I'm American.Unfortunately, this means Israelis are learning to act like meaner, more sociopathic people in certain ways, because Israel has learned that being nice gets us the knife. Problem is, if we want to solve this, we can't just ask Israelis to be nicer purely for the sake of niceness; after all, being a nice guy in a bad neighborhood gets you beaten and robbed, if not outright killed. On some level, the "nice people" need to either drop the false smiles and admit they want us dead, or learn to accept that our existence is legitimate. They could also use a lesson in accepting the manners of other cultures, since contrary to the stereotype I've found Israelis perfectly capable of *Israeli* politeness, even if not American or European formality.

  5. Daniel Berman says :

    Eli – the main goal of this piece was not to claim that there is a serious problem with Israeli society – you call it sociopathic behavior, I call it violent and racist behavior, but to try and present a theory as to why this is so, and stress the importance of dealing with this problem for the future of Israel. As to peace with the Palestinians, this is of course, like everything else, a matter of opinion. I for one, believe that the two are linked – reconciling ourselves will help create a sure society that can confidently approach the issue of peace. One thing is for sure- the current situation cannot continue. No, we cannot contain 5 million Palestinians into Israel – but this is precisely why we must separate ourselves into two countries, unless we wish to make the millions of Palestinians now living in the West Bank Israeli citizens, or become an apartheid country.But again – we must not shy away from looking into the mirror properly and realizing what kind of society we are becoming. If just for the sake of making a more pleasant place to live in for our children.


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