Racism is behind so many conflicts that we choose to treat disparately. While each of these need to be addressed, the only longterm solution to prevent future racially motivated conflict is education.
I am deeply disturbed by the violence between police and Ethiopian-Israelis and I am not alone in seeing legitimacy in the grievances of the Ethiopian population. The beating of Damas Pakada was only a catalyst for the expression of a much greater at the racism in Israel, which while technically illegal, is institutionalized in practice.
This racism is of a very different flavor than the American variety. It is not reduced to judging a person by the color of his/her skin, though that is one factor. Racism in Israel is as diverse as its politics – there are more dominant themes and smaller groups of people with really odd ideas. There are larger camps (Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim; Jews vs. non-Jews); secondary camps (Polish Jews vs. German Jews vs. Lithuanian Jews; Moroccan Jews vs. Iraqi Jews vs. Yemeni) and infinite tertiary permutations (how the Ashkenazim vs. the Sepheradim feel about the Ethiopians or the Russians or the Arabs and vice versa ad nauseam).
Of course not all persons are racist in Israel nor do I claim to be a person without prejudice. It has been my experience, however, that it is acceptable and normal to make racially prejudiced assertions, in Israel, with a very low probability that those assertions will be challenged.
Whatever sectarianism may exist in Israel, no one party can be blamed for this problem and it can not be solved by finding a scapegoat. Don’t misunderstand me – the policies and actions of State institutions must be reviewed and corrected. That will have no effect on the way the average person treats the other.
It is in the best interest of the State of Israel for her citizens to wish each other good and not ill fortune. The only way to achieve this is for them to know one another, because racist beliefs are reinforced in isolation. Nothing breaks the illusion of otherness like the encounter with sameness.
The Israeli system of education reinforces the feeling of otherness. In fact, there are four systems of education in Israel: Secular, National Religious, Ultra-Orthodox and Arab. Two of those sectors send only a fraction of their students to the army which is the supposed melting pot of Israeli society. Perhaps we can work toward societal cohesion without the army as our primary tool for that purpose?
There should be one basic curriculum for all Israeli primary and secondary students and supplemented classes for specific groups. That basic curriculum should include civics, math, Hebrew, English and Arabic.
There are much loftier ideals in this arena but I am a pragmatist. Ideally, Israelis of all backgrounds would go freely to each others’ neighborhoods and send their children to the same schools. This is highly unrealistic. There are so many geographical, religious and ideological impediments to implementing such a system.
A good start would be teaching all the State’s children (its future adults) basic life skills, respect for one another and how to talk to one another. The State should support (not oblige) cross-sectorial collaboration amongst its youth as much as possible. Israel has good legislation on discrimination and racism; it is the duty of the State to make sure each of her citizens knows what the law says. The State can’t prevent what kind of views will be expressed at home, but it can make clear to every student: in the country in which you live, all persons have certain rights and responsibilities and these are what they are.
Yet it is not only the subjects taught in school that change the conversation. We need to have the courage to say something when we hear racist statements. We need to embrace the logical side of ourselves when confronted without our own racial prejudices and affirm that the logical choice is better than the instinctual one.
I don’t believe anything I’ve proposed to be a cure-all. It’s just a small part in a very large puzzle of bigotry, but an important part. The State is the one thing to which we all belong and it must be one state for all of us.