The Silence of the Sheep: Ignoring Systemic Racism

The recent disclosure of the arrest of a Palestinian worker in Modiin-Ilit was met with visceral responses from government officials and election candidates. A rape of a seven-year-old girl is horrible and should never be used politically and certainly with such racially charged animosity. Before the accused even entered a courtroom and said a word, one party leader called for the death penalty, another government official called for the Terror classification. While appalling and shameful that some of our leaders are blatant racists who do not believe in innocent until proven guilty (sadly it is not an Israeli thing), it is actually not the part that requires outrage.

When the story broke and the articles began disclosing the case it was clear from the reported facts that something was wrong. Here they are: A girl of seven was raped by a man who worked in her school with help from two other men, February to April is the official recorded “date of offense”; in broad daylight she was dragged screaming from the school to a home a kilometer away, there were no witnesses; the accused is a seemingly trusted worker who has no record or suspicion of prior violence or pedophilia, the two accomplices have not been found; the girl could not identify the attacker from pictures of all the workers in her school until she went for a tour of the school with an unknown adult and then was able to do so.

The immigrant community in Israel is vast, and there are significant numbers of citizens who know what a fair justice system is. In no developed land would this man, a Palestinian, be arrested for anything. There is zero evidence other than the word of a minor of seven and an identification process that is imprecise at best. And yet, Israeli lawmakers seeing fit to accuse, try, convict and lobby for execution and the destruction of his family property is not the main problem. The fact that a judge allowed for the accused to be remanded, the fact that the police believed they had enough evidence to bring it to a judge in the first place, the fact that the media reported it without batting an eyelash, these are the things that should be setting of alarm bells in every citizen and causing true concern for the future of our State.

As the elections proved to us, we live in a polarized country where the ideological battle for the nature of the State is being fought with equal representation on either side of the debate. Prime Minister Netanyahu calls it Right vs. Left, and as time goes on it becomes clear that Right vs. Left is just a nice term to water down the actual divide which is Jewish Nationalists vs. Jewish Globalists. The former group, Bibi’s Right, advocate for greater Israel, control over the West Bank, some even talk of Damascus and Baghdad and Temple rebuilding and the deportation of non-Jews and the voluntary subjugation of non-Jews in exchange for residency permits for those who want to stay. The latter, the Left, are advocates for withdrawal from the West Bank and the Golan, a scaling back on our intelligence services, a reduction in our defense budget, a more conciliatory approach to international diplomacy and in some cases, the removal of the Jewish nature of the State of Israel. Both are missing the picture.

What the remand of the suspect and subsequent reporting of the alleged rape shows is that Israel has a long way to go to be that light among the nations we are supposed to be. If we cannot guarantee the civil rights of the ones under our jurisdiction, if we single out suspects based on skin color or heritage or beliefs without any concrete evidence, and parade them and shame them and purposefully prosecute them in the court of public opinion prior to one of law, we are no better than the despots who did the same thing to us throughout the millennia. Now, it is possible that this man did commit the crime and is in fact, guilty, based on the evidence though, this is less likely. Allowing for a fair process would be a way to decide this, however fairness is no longer an option after the news spin cycle essentially damned the accused and turned even a hint of circumstance into factual record.

Gilad Erdan who is the minister overseeing the police and asserted so surely that this was a Terror crime just yesterday, tried walking back his comments today without actually doing so. A cabinet level minister vying for re-election after his party failed to form a government, who so callously uses the rape of a child for political gain is unacceptable. The man should be fired and would be under any normal government. However, as Israel is proving to the world over and again lately, we are not a normal government and even our allies are cringing at the blatant institutionalized bigotry.

As citizens of this Country we need to hold our leaders and our system to account. Does the silence of the majority of Israelis signal that this is the nature of the country? Are we a racist and bigoted society that is quick to blame an Arab who has had nothing but kind words said about him by those who know him? Israel is polarized and the system is corrupt and biased, this is a fact no one can dispute. The race to judgement was aided by a media which just ate the story and spit it out without question. If we are to truly be a thriving nation state which expects respect from the world, we need to do better on all levels. We need the free media to provide the checks and balances that our system does not account for. We need to hold our leaders and officials to account for their actions and words instead of glossing over it. As we learned from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, it is words and rhetoric that encourage killing and based on these recent events, we have not taken that lesson to heart.

All of Israeli citizens are complicit in the racism and bigotry of our justice system. So long as we turn a blind eye and do not question what we are told not to question, so long as we do not push back and demand more from our leaders, so long as we allow these injustices to occur daily, we are all to blame.

About the Author
Jay Engelmayer is a 47 year old husband and father of four. Professionally his focus has been digital marketing and business development for commercial products. A proud and unapologetic American-Israeli Zionist, he enjoys cooking and yelling at television screens. Some consider him argumentative in nature, although he prefers "purposeful cynic" when describing his disposition. Living in Israel, he hails from New York City and is glad he left before it became the 1970's redux it is today.
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