The new normal in Israel

Violence, racism, fear and no political horizon: that is what Israel’s leadership has to offer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the scene of a mass shooting in central Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff St., January 2, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the scene of a mass shooting in central Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff St., January 2, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Two Arab residents of Israel were taken off an Aegean Airlines flight to Tel Aviv Monday night after several Jewish Israeli passengers demanded they be removed, simply for being Arab. The Jewish Israeli passengers refused to take their seats — thereby preventing the flight from departing — until the two Arab men deplaned, Israel Radio reported.

After a couple of hours, in an effort to de-escalate, the airline ended up offering the two Arab men a different flight and a free night at a hotel if they agreed to stay behind, according to the report. The pair arrived back in Israel today.

There was no mention in the report of any other Israeli passengers trying to step in and oppose the move, or get off the plane in protest or solidarity.

The Israel Radio report did note that the Israeli Embassy in Athens was notified of what happened, but that it chose not to make any statement or take any action because the matter had been “resolved.”

That silence in the face of such a clear wrong, both by the other passengers and the embassy, speaks volumes.

Welcome to the “new normal” in Israel 2016. Similar such incidents happen all the time. There were the Israeli hotels that warned Jewish guests about Arab citizens who would also be staying there.

There was that time in 2013 when the “Superland” amusement park was caught segregating Jewish and Arab student groups in order to “avoid confrontations.”

So should it really come as a surprise that the Education Ministry has banned a book that discusses a romance between an Arab and a Jew from its curriculum ? (Or is it actually because it portrays IDF soldiers in a bad light, as Education Minister Naftali Bennett has now said?)

These acts are not an aberration from the norm. They are the new normal.

The fact that police automatically raided and ransacked the dorms and apartments of Arab citizens in search of the suspect in Friday’s Tel Aviv shooting attack appears to be a matter of policy. The only probable cause was having the wrong ethnicity — which is precisely what happened on the Greek airplane.

These are not a few random incidents by a few crazy citizens or a few radical Knesset members. This is the new normal.

Prime Minister Netanyahu on Saturday gave a short speech at the scene of the Tel Aviv shooting attack that many commentators have described as incendiary and racist: the prime minister essentially blamed the entire Arab citizen population for the acts of one individual person. It was basically a sequel to his Election Day warning this past March that “the Arabs are going to the polls in droves.”

But it is also important to pause on something else Netanyahu said over the weekend: “Whoever wants to be Israeli must be Israeli all the way.”

What on earth is being “Israeli all the way?”

I can tell you what it is not. It is not being a combat soldier who feels the need to talk about the things he or she was ordered to do in the occupied territories. It is not working for a non-profit organization whose primary funding comes from European governments. It is not a Jewish citizen in a romantic relationship with a Palestinian. It is not someone who refuses to buy settlement products, someone who goes out to protest military operations, or somebody who actively opposes the systematic control and oppression of millions of Palestinians.

With no end to the violence in sight — against both Palestinians as well as against Israeli citizens and security forces — and no political resolution on the horizon, all Israeli leaders have left to do, it seems, is fan the flames of fear, trauma and mayhem. As long as violence and fear envelop the country like a fog, the public remains distracted from the leadership’s total incompetence at providing a viable future for anyone living here.