One of the unintended results of the current round of mayhem in Israel and Palestine has been a reminder of the rampant racism within Israeli society. The racism is not just directed at Palestinians, as one might expect, but against anyone who looks “Arab,” which includes Mizrahi Jews. The rampage of violence of the past few weeks offers numerous examples not just of Israeli Jews who murdered Palestinians in cold blood, but of Ashkenazi Jews who attacked Mizrahi Jews, assuming they were Palestinian.
This Israeli Channel 10 report shows that while Ashkenazi Jews may stay off the street for fear of attack by Palestinians, Mizrahim doubly stay off the street. One of their major fears is being mistaken for an “Arab” and attacked because of their accent or skin color. They won’t take public transportation, since some of the brutal attacks by Palestinians have been on buses. They are afraid that armed Israeli Jews will single them out as suspects and gun them down in cold blood.
In one case, an Israeli victim yelled at his Israeli attacker, “I am Jewish.” But the knife-wielding assailant ignored his cries and continued stabbing him. An elderly Mizrahi tells the reporter that one day as she boarded a bus an IDF soldier ripped off her necklace and called her “dirty Arab.” In order to prove her Jewishness, she began to recite the first Hebrew verses of the Book of Genesis. A Mizrahi wrote on Facebook that after he after he got on the bus, the driver stopped and called police about a “suspect” on board. When police arrived it turned out that he was the suspect.
Mizrahi rabbis also note that their followers are taught to look down on themselves by such treatment. They are taught to blend in, to hide their identity. And this breeds a certain form of self-hatred.
This article from Mako recounts further similar incidents. It also reports that Israelis themselves are taught to observe principles of racial profiling by no less a source than the IDF itself. One Israeli reported walking through an industrial zone in Talpiot wearing flip-flops. Two policemen stopped him demanding to know who he was and why he was there. After he spoke a few sentences and they could tell he was Jewish, they left the scene with the suspect yelling at them: “At least you could apologize!” He’s lucky they didn’t shoot him instead.
One victim of such racism said:
I feel I must apologize for my appearance: for my beard, my face. The more you strengthen your Mizrahi identity in speech and appearance, the more you raise eyebrows. Because of my beard I change my behavior as a rule. I wear a kippah when I enter an Orthodox [Ashkenazi] neighborhood in Jerusalem, because I see the looks I get there. I actually feel more comfortable around Arabs than Jews in a time like this; as long as I don’t speak. My Arab appearance can provoke violence. Whenever I enter my son’s school, the security guard, who sees me every day there, repeats the same questions: who am I and why am I there. He would never ask such questions of another parent who didn’t look Mizrahi. You’re always thinking that your appearance is a problem. When I enter a mall, it’s the same thing.
Israeli security forces believe that they can look at a person and identify in a few moments whether he poses a security threat. But on what basis do they make such judgments? On the same false assumptions that govern the decisions of Israeli Jews who mistakenly identify fellow Jews as security threats. You can fall under suspicion for many reasons including your appearance, your name, or your country of origin.
At Ben Gurion, travelers are divided into three categories. The first is most preferred: Jews, both Israeli and non-Israeli; the second is considered “normal” and includes non-Jews; the third is “suspect” and is comprised of Arabs. A veteran security official tells the reporter that when he monitors travelers he’s not looking for someone who will try to hijack a plane. Rather, he’s seeking someone who looks like he’s trying to hide something; something that even he may not know he’s hiding because it’s been planted on him. The official continues that they’re taught to identify Arabs by certain unconventional measures including the shoes they wear. Because Arab villages have few paved roads their shoes tend to be dusty. The palms of a man’s hand can tell him that he’s a day laborer, meaning he’s more likely to be Arab. Wearing black stone-wash jeans, which are popular among Arab youth is another dead giveaway. He notes that one inspector was fired because she couldn’t successfully identify Arab Christians, who sometimes have Jewish-sounding names.
You can also identify travelers by what they pack in their suitcases. Arabs tend to pack foods like cheese and olive oil to share with the family they intend to visit. They also prefer soft luggage rather than rigid bags. He picks out Arabs by their clothing, the vehicle they drive, haircuts and the way they shave. Arabs apparently shave in a manner that is “more aesthetic and cleaner” and with shorter “neater hair” than Israeli Jews. A Mizrahi Jew tells the reporter that since he’s taken to wearing glasses, growing his hair longer and more curly and added a moustache, he’s not taken for “Arab.” On his many trips abroad he’s experimented with Israeli security and if he doesn’t wear glasses he’s invariably detained. When he was clean-shaven, he found that he was viewed as more of a threat. In New York, it’s sexy and in Israel it’s threatening. The solution is to make yourself appear European, but in a sophisticated way. Adidas sneakers don’t go well with eyeglasses, so don’t get mixed up. But the best manner to avoid being profiled is to have a woman accompany, preferably a white woman. Another is to be in a group of individuals darker than you, because they’ll stop them and let you go.
Arab travelers note that colored stickers affixed to their passport picture and airline tickets identify their ethnicity. Jews get a yellow sticker and Arabs a different color.
One Palestinian traveler told a story that when he was young and taking a flight with his family, his father when asked by the security guard where he was from, said “Kfar Saba” [a Jewish town]. When he asked his father why he answered that way, his father responded: “Well, we once drove through it, so it’s like we are from Kfar Saba.”
The issue of racial profiling afflicts not only Israel, but the U.S. as well. The NY Times analyzed virtually all the traffic stops in Greensboro, NC and found the disproportionate amount targeted Blacks. It found that there is both intentional and unconscious racism on the part of the police towards people of color in virtually all major decisions officers made. It goes without saying that Blacks also comprise a vastly disproportionate number of arrests, convictions and incarcerations.
But lest any Israel advocates argue that Israel is no different from America in this regard, the 56 Palestinians murdered over the past few weeks equates to 2,300 deaths in terms of overall U.S. population. Can we imagine a situation in which U.S. police would go on a killing spree and murder that many Blacks over such a short period? In reality, the Guardian reports that statistics it’s compiling, put the police on track to kill 1,000 individuals of all races in 2015. That’s over an entire year. It’s certainly a disturbing statistic, but nowhere near as disturbing as the situation in Israel.