A central element in the world’s attitude towards the Israel-Arab conflict is that the world expects much less of Palestinian Arabs than it expects of Jews. Mike Fegelman, Executive Director of Honest Reporting Canada, wrote in 2013 in the Huffington Post about this “Soft Bigotry of Low Palestinian Expectations”. Many others have talked about it too, and those like me who are avid observers of the conflict know it all too well. Anti-Israel activists cynically use it to their advantage, and Israel supporters denounce it often, usually to no avail.
But is it okay when those low expectations come not from the United Nations or Western politicians but from some Israeli Jews themselves?
As an example, Times of Israel blogger and writer Sarah Tutle-Singer wrote a public post about an incident where she was the victim of an unnamed Arab. She said in the post that she also talked about the incident in a book that she wrote. She did not report the incident to the police, which is her right, and she gave several reasons why, one of them being that she, as she put it, “knew that the police would turn this into a nationalist thing — “Arab man assaults Jewish woman””.
I respect Tutle-Singer’s right, and the right of every victim, to not report an attack against them. They may feel that reporting makes them a victim a second time because of the hostile attention and aggressive cross-examination that would entail, or they may have any other personal reason that they have absolutely no obligation to explain to anyone. But Tutle-Singer chose to discuss the reasons publicly, therefore it is reasonable to ask whether that particular reason is fair towards Jews and Arabs.
I won’t answer for the Jews, although the answer may seem obvious, but as an Arab, I have to say that the reason that she cited offends me.
I am a scrupulously law-abiding citizen. I never smoked a marijuana joint in my life, not because it’s a health hazard (I smoked cigarettes for years, and I believe them to be a bigger health hazard), but simply because it’s illegal. When I purchase goods in the US and I cross the border back to Canada, I declare them and I pay the duty, something that I’m told many people don’t do. I am an Arab who not only would not assault a Jew or anyone else, but I refuse the break any laws, even when many others do.
So, when I see that an Arab may have got away with a crime because someone was afraid to make Arabs in general look bad, I take offense to it. It’s not okay. If at all possible, criminals should pay for their crimes, and other potential victims should be protected, regardless of the race, nationality, gender, or religion of the attacker or victim.
We Arabs are just as able to understand the law and as able to control ourselves as anyone else. I want the fact that I am a model citizen to be respected because of the effort that I put into being a model citizen, not because I just happen to be born Arab.
The bigotry of low expectations isn’t only harmful to Israel and Jews as Fegelman and others explain. It’s also harmful to Arabs. It makes us feel unappreciated and denigrated. It’s not okay.