Shira Pruce

On Racism in Israel

I am tired of the unspoken, deeply engrained racism in daily life in Israel. It is in the air — and the airwaves. I am despondent when listening to our ‘favorite’ radio personalities on the Israeli national public radio (a main source of news for Israelis) interview Arabs. Whether an Arab MK or a young man recently acquitted, wrongfully accused of acting against the state, the broadcaster’s questions are backed by racist assumptions, slanted translations from Arabic and inaccurate misquotes. The integrity of these weathered journalists slips and slides in ways it never would when interviewing Jews. These behaviors are never questioned because the racism is as deeply engrained in the listener as it is in the interviewer.

I hear it, assumptions that crimes are committed by Arabs, that “they” are somehow dangerous or less-caring by nature. This deep-seated fear and hatred of Arabs bleeds into disdain for all people not-Jewish and not white. Xenophobia leads Israel to ignore those most hurting inside our borders — refugees, foreign workers and all of the children of color. It is shameful.

In my work in Jerusalem and in the Negev I have seen the hope and massive potential of Arab children and youth. In my work today in the Negev, I see the uphill battles and great successes of modern bedouin leaders but I also see the disparities their people face. The Bedouin infant mortality rate is five times higher than Jews’. Bedouin education systems have the highest dropout rates, the lowest levels of achievement and the most special needs. There are many factors that contribute to these statistics, but that this is an underserved large minority of non-Jewish citizens in a Jewish state cannot be denied and it is hurting us all.

I love Israel and I am scared for her. We cannot thrive here with a large and growing population of citizens who are suspect, discriminated against and disenfranchised. I am a Zionist and a feminist and I must say out loud that this inequality is costing people their lives.

Holding back Arabs in Israel is counter to our desire for a strong, democratic Jewish State. A fully thriving, working, successful Arab society in Israel would improve Israel- even if we only consider, for a moment, our economic interests. Beyond those interests, disparities in rights and resources, mass or false incarceration, these are the signs of a lesser moral character and a weakened democracy.

I want to expect more from my people, from Jews. The Jewish values that I hold to be true are those that demand we pursue justice. We have been the victim of discrimination and persecution in the past, and with the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the US and Europe, we know how this feels. We should be doing better in 2017, in Israel and America. White Jews still benefit from white privilege and we must use this privilege to defend people who do not have it and to amplify their voices. Our history implores us to.

Even if racism in Israel has become so subconscious that the majority of Israel’s voters, soldiers and civilians do not hear its blatant ring, that does not excuse it. It is up to those of us who do recognize these abuses of power to call them by their name. If we allow racism in our midst, in our journalism, if we laugh at a joke, scoff at a generalization and nod our heads at racist language and assumptions, then we are a part of the damage it creates. If we model these behaviors to our children, or treat them as if they are happenstance and acceptable, then we are a part of the problem in the next generation as well. We must educate ourselves and those around us to hear and see the racism in their midst and in the actions of their leaders. Only once we wake up to these realities can we intervene.

As an American immigrant to Israel, these days my heart aches and my worry deepens for both of my homes. On the weekend of the inauguration of a racist, sexual predator to the office of the President of the United States of America, from the place that recently set free a serial rapist, former Israeli President and has barely had a regime change in 20 years, I join in the many prayers for clarity, strength and for the resistance.

Educate yourself on racism in America:

Read NPR’s Code Switch 

Get woke and laugh with Buzzfeed’s Another Round Podcast 

Check out the recent Twitter art of Daniel Rarela on MLK 

and in Israel: Read Haaretz’s Gideon Levy, with a grain of salt and an open mind. 

and Haaretz’s Sayed Kashua

About the Author
Shira Pruce is an activist and communications professional. After living in Israel for 13 years, she has recently moved back to New Jersey. She is former director of public relations for Women of the Wall, and has advanced the work of MASLAN- the Negev’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Support Center and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, to name just a few. She received her BA in Women and Gender Studies at Douglass College, Rutgers University.