Cherry-picking your racists: A response to Yossi Gurvitz

Yossi’s Gurvitz latest piece, titled “This sick glee in the face of a terrorist attack”, was probably the most controversial we ever posted on +972. We got loads of comments immediately, many of them very angry. The real bad ones were removed. I guess we lost some readers. I know that some followers on Facebook and Twitter blocked us. And we had strong disagreement over some parts of the piece among ourselves, expressed in the comments to the posts and in e-mail exchanges between the sites bloggers.

Before I deal with some of the points Yossi raised, there is something that needs to be explained about +972: this site is a collective of bloggers. Every blogger is responsible for his or her own channel – the posts, images and even the comment policy. The editors don’t censor anyone and they don’t tell people what to write. If I don’t like something someone wrote, I could write a response (like I do now), but not much more than this.

To the point: I think Yossi is making one strong argument in his post, missing on another issue, and makes a very bad claim in his closing statement.

The most important point in the piece regards the strengthening ties between the European far-right and Israel. It’s not just the political ties Yossi mentioned, but a certain understanding among some Israelis that people like Geert Wilders, (the late) Jorg Haider and Jean Marie Le-Pen “are on our side.”

These ties seems to benefit both sides: Israelis get political support where they are most vulnerable—the relation with the Arab minority—and what could be better for the descendants of the Europe’s fascist and Nazi movements than a stamp of approval from the Jewish state?

The Israeli case has nothing to do with Europe’s debate on immigration. The Palestinian population in Israel is indigenous — i.e., it pre-dates that state — while Europe is discussing immigration. The problem with the occupation is the military control over people with no rights, while in Europe it’s a question of citizenship, and so on. The only thing that bridges those gaps is the mounting Islamophobic feeling in both societies. Shared hate can go very far, as the Jerusalem Post’s Sunday editorial demonstrated. If the world’s most widely read Jewish paper is calling on Norway to reevaluate immigration policies following a horrifying terror attack by a rightwing racist—something even many of those fascists wouldn’t dare say now—then things have gone pretty far.

However, I don’t think that such feelings represent all Israelis, and probably not even most of them. Most organizations still refrain from legitimizing Europe’s far right (the United States’ racists are a different story). As for the “glee in the face of the attack,” Yossi points to a few disgusting comments on the internet, but comments on the internet represent a fraction of the readers, and more often than not, it’s the most extreme ones, usually those who feel that their views couldn’t be expressed in other forms. The Israelis I spoke to where shocked and saddened by the terrorist attack in Norway, just like any sane person would be.

Furthermore, those Israelis who did look for some morbid “educational value” in the murder certainly weren’t alone: the conservative media in the States rushed to blame Muslims for the attacks, and when it turned that those were carried by a rightwing fanatic, some still tried to push their points; others were the inspiration of the killer himself: see here, here, here & here, for example.

Which brings me to my final point. Yossi writes:

The fact that many people could identify with a mass murderer of children spotlights another problem, one rarely mentioned: The de-humanizing effects of Jewish Orthodox education, which most Israeli Jews receive in one form or another. Being taught from an early age that you belong to a master race, and that other people are inherently inferior, that their lives aren’t worth as much as yours, will take its mark.

While Orthodoxy is the official state religion in Israel, it is hardly present in the secular public schools. Yes, when I went to school we did learn of “Am Sgula” (עם סגולה,  a unique people), and of “Or Lagoyim” (“light to the gentile nations”)—as some comments to Yossi’s piece mentioned—but this was, at least in my view, a call to better ourselves and not to see Jews as master race. And as I said, we simply didn’t deal with those issues most of the time. Furthermore, the notion of one nation’s uniqueness is not unique to the Jewish people or to Israelis, but can be found in many cultures.

Many of those analyzing the Israeli public school system have not attended it. I did. Is it nationalistic? Yes. Is racism present? Yes. Does it promote militarism? Certainly (I wrote about it here). Does it teach Jews to see themselves as a “master race”? Not at the schools I attended.

I also think that at the core of my disagreement with Yossi lies a different view of the role ideology plays in society. If I read Yossi’s posts correctly, he is concerned by the combination of a certain interpretation of Judaism and the Israeli establishment. Yossi would not have been as troubled by Orthodox Judaism’s view of the gentile if were not a dominate view amongst the Israeli establishment. Such racism becomes dangerous when it has an army – and Israel has a very powerful one.

I see ideology differently. I think ideologies are the stories societies invent to justify their desires and their often selfish actions. In the Israeli case, it wasn’t racism that brought the occupation and the colonization, but the other way around: the land theft, the deportation and misplacement needed a justification, so a certain view of Jewish morals was accepted – one that allows us to settle all the land, and that viewed Arabs as inferiors, and therefore entitled to fewer rights.

This is why in my view the way to better society is by changing the political conditions, rather than by focusing only on educating people or changing their ideology. Want to make Israelis less racists? For a start, force them to end the occupation.