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article imageOp-Ed: Racism flourishes in Israel

By John McAuliffe     Feb 16, 2016 in Politics
Institutionalised racism in Israeli society is becoming a particularly worrying trend as Israel's relations with old allies worsen. The past few weeks have seen numerous examples of racist acts committed by Israeli authorities.
Israel and Palestine have been engaged in a long conflict which has its origins dating back to the end of the 19th century, since the Zionist movement was established and the right for Jews to live in Palestine was increasingly being upheld by force. This eventually led to the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. As a nation birthed from conflict, a divisive culture developed both along religious and racial lines that still manifests itself today. The past few weeks offered particularly potent proof.
1. Israel is home to 1.7 million Arabs, making up approximately 21 percent of the population. There are 17 Arab members of the Knesset (MK) to represent their interests in the 120-seat parliament, however the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has introduced a bill to ban three of these members for visiting the Palestinian families of victims slain by the Israeli Defence Force. The MKs in question are Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi, and Basel Ghattas. Furthermore, the bill, if passed, is set to require only 90 cast votes to expel the Arab MKs and facilitates the easy expulsion of others in the future. However, despite the ongoing debate on the bill, the Knesset Ethics Committee, to which Netanyahu earlier filed a complaint against the three MKs, has already banned them from parliament for up to four months while the bill on their permanent expulsion is debated.
2. Israel is becoming more notorious for its lengthy wall, which critics frequently refer to as an 'apartheid wall' because of its intention to separate and split Palestinian towns and villages from the predominantly white, Jewish population in Israel. However, despite this long-running criticism, Netanyahu introduced a new measure on 9 February. He announced plans to surround all of Israel with a barbed-wire fence. The plan is set to take years and cost billions of shekels to complete. Discussing the plan, Netanyahu claimed it was to protect Israel from Palestinians and Arabs from neighbouring states, stating: "we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts." The remarks caused a flurry of condemnation in the media and online, interpreted largely as racist towards Arabs.
Israeli wall surrounding refugee camp in Bethlehem.
Israeli wall surrounding refugee camp in Bethlehem.
Michele Benericetti
3. The next day, on 10 February, Israeli parliamentarian Anat Berko, also a member of the ruling Lukid party in which Netanyahu is the leader and a veteran Israeli soldier, stood up and proclaimed that Palestine does not, and can not exist because the Arabic language has no 'P' consonant. She said: "What exactly is our place here regarding Jerusalem, regarding Palestine? As we have said, there isn't even a 'P' in Arabic so this borrowed term is also worth scrutinizing." As opposition lawmakers heckled Berko, she continued to tauntingly utter "pa, pa, pa" sounds at the audience. The flabbergasted reaction of her fellow lawmakers caused even Berko to giggle at the podium at her own remarks. Berko's remarks received widespread ridicule, with some retorting that there is no 'J' in Hebrew. The explanation that Palestine is not pronounced with a 'P', but rather an 'F' for 'Filisteen' in Arabic was circulated in response to Berko's remarks.
4. Israeli authorities have offered to return the bodies of 10 Palestinians, killed by Israeli forces for alleged acts of violence, to their families upon meeting a series of conditions. The victims were killed over the course of the past few weeks and have since been withheld from their families. In order for the families to have their deceased loved-ones returned, they must agree to hold the funeral late at night with no more than 50 people in attendance. This measure seeks to prevent media coverage for the funeral, which, for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, are often a large public event with thousand in attendance. Furthermore, the families must pay 20,000 shekels each for the return of the bodies. Remarkably, the deceased Palestinians were due to be handed over to the families, who were first notified of this, only to later be notified that the handover will be delayed. They were then informed of the new conditional requirements for the funeral and a large payment.
5. Israel's treatment of African migrants is frequently under the scrutinising lens of the media because of a widely perceived societal racism against them, which, in the past, has included inflammatory and derogatory language in parliament and violent riots. Israel has been dealing with an influx of migrants from Africa, including a large Jewish community, however their religion has rarely protected them from the colour of their skin. Israel has approved only 1 percent of asylum requests despite having signed the UN Refugee Convention over 60 years ago. For tens of thousands of other migrants and refugees, life in a detention camp awaiting deportation is the reality. Israel threatens those detained in the camps with indefinite imprisonment if they refuse to leave the country or if they break the strict rules, but if they choose to migrate to another country, they are promised legal status, the appropriate papers and $3,500. The camps are located in extremely isolated areas out of the public eye. Reported testimonies of those who decided to leave discovered that instead of Israel's promises being fulfilled, they were abandoned immediately after departing the plane, one of whom was trafficked into modern-day slavery and the other left with nothing with which to survive.
6. On 15 February, a disturbing video circulated the media which showed Israeli authorities confront a disabled, wheelchair-bound Palestinian and knock him to the ground. The onlooking crowd gathered to witness the vicious spectacle and were dispersed with a combination of warning shots and physical assault. The video also appears to show a young Palestinian girl gravely wounded on the ground in a pool of blood.
Unprovoked attacks, arrests and killings of Palestinian children, elderly and disabled are an increasing phenomenon in Israel with multiple news reports of such incidents every week. Palestinians are increasingly confronting authorities due to their abhorrent treatment, however the result is a mounting death toll. 160 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli authorities since last October.
7. The cumulative effect of the above-mentioned points are quickly increasing divisions between Israel and the international community. The tried and tested accusations used against Palestinians to justify their mistreatment are increasingly being used against highly respectable and influential world leaders in lieu of growing criticism of Israel's behaviour. Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon voiced concern at the current period of escalated violence in Israel, attributing it to Palestinian frustration at Israel's expanding settlement policy in the occupied West Bank and a stalled peace process. Netanyahu slammed his comments, stating: "The UN lost its neutrality and moral force a long time ago, and the Secretary-General's remarks do not improve the situation." He proceeded to personally accuse Ban of encouraging "terror". Netanyahu has been lashing out at close allied states as well. US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro accused Israel of employing a two-tier judicial system in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian violence, pointing out the notably lighter sentencing of Israeli perpetrators. Furthermore, Israel lashed out at the European Union's decision to label goods coming from Israeli-occupied territories, a move also backed by the US State Department. In response, the Israeli government released statistics from the World Zionist Organisation, a group closely affiliated with Israel. Diaspora Minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, a major coalition partner, Naftali Bennett claimed this year that anti-Semitism in Europe has reached "unprecedented" levels. He cited disputed figures from the WZO which claims anti-Semitic incidents in London increased over 60 percent in 12 months and 84 percent in Paris.
Concern for developments in Israel are constantly increasing. Racism has become such a prominent issue that Israel's closest allies are increasingly seeking to distance themselves with policies and statements that offer a mild indication to Israel of their dissatisfaction. Israel, however, often responds with hostile criticism and continues to fail to address the increasingly worrying problem of institutionalised racism.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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