Words Ultimately Lethal

A few weeks ago several Jerusalem Beitar football fans were charged with racism for chanting at two new Muslim Chechyan players, ‘May your village burn’.  A Muslim woman was recently attacked after Purim at a light rail stop in Jerusalem.  Now, rocks have been thrown in a Jerusalem street at a Muslim woman’s car and insults hurled at her Jewish friend for associating with her.  All carried out by Israeli Jews.

I should not be shocked, right?  Israelis are just like everyone else, they have their prejudices which they are free to express in full knowledge that they are subject to the rule of the law. The ringleaders at the football club were duly arrested, and the Beitar Council committed itself publicly to ‘rooting racism out’.   It is just as you might expect at a soccer game in London; racism, arrests, and commitments to change.  Then racism a week later all over again, this time somewhere else.

So why does racism in Israel disturb me so much more?  Is it fair or rational to hold Israelis to a higher standard than others?  Racism is equally bad wherever it occurs. Right?

I hate to admit it as a former Englishman, but I have come to expect racism in Britain.  Unfair as it may seem the lens is sharpened when Israeli Jews become racists.  We have come expect so much more – maybe too much more – but should it ever be too much to expect a society to be free of racism?

Almost daily I watch Holocaust survivor testimony.   Every one of the survivors experienced the devastating effects of racism out of control.  They really did have their homes and villages burned – their families too. The Holocaust was an extreme, but not an exception.  I  frequently hear them say that chants turn all too easily into reality.   Twenty-something year old lads with more testosterone than sense is not uncommon in any society – except that in this case they bring war onto the streets.  And it is no war of words.  It has true lethal potential.  Apparently a generation of Jewish Israelis, who have not yet all said Kaddish for their beloved Holocaust survivor grandparents, have very short memories indeed.

It cuts both ways of course.  The shocking video of Dutch Muslim teenage boys declaring that they think that Hitler should have completed his job, and totally unrepentant in their anti-Semitism and anti-zionism was a sickening sight.  So too was the video of two orthodox Jews emerging from the Damascus gate pelted with snowballs and mercilessly harassed by Muslim youths.  You cannot condemn the one and not the other.

Beitar fans better take note though.  As they chant ‘Death to the Arabs’, not far way is its chilling echo, ‘Death to the Jews.’  If you accept one, how can you not expect the other?

About the Author
Stephen D Smith is Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, whose Visual History Archive holds 52,000 testimonies of eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides. He founded the UK Holocaust Centre, The Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He was Project Director of the Kigali Genocide Centre, Rwanda. Smith, who trained as a Christian theologian, is an author, educator and researcher interested in memory of the Holocaust, and the causes and consequences of human conflict. Views expressed in this blog are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of USC Shoah Foundation.