WATCH: Racist college humor in the Israeli heartland

Student Union members at a large college outside Tel Aviv make a grotesquely racist film, and they don’t understand what they did wrong.   

I wish I could say that the young Israelis who made this film and the “thousands” who immediately gave “positive reactions” to it were marginal in this society – that they were “hilltop youth” in the West Bank, or slum-dwellers growing up amid severe poverty, ignorance, violence and crime. But they’re not. They’re college students in their early twenties from the heart of the country, from the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion, outside Tel Aviv. And the ones who made this little film aren’t marginal on their 12,000-student campus, either – they’re in the Student Union, they’re involved, they’re the leaders of tomorrow, as people like to say of such young adults.

I am very relieved to read there was an outpouring of protest against the four-minute film from other students at the college. In this country, there are both children of light and children of darkness. The problem is that there are so many children of darkness; wherever you go in the Middle East’s only democracy, some of them are guaranteed to be in the vicinity.

The film was a “comedic” promo for the college Student Union’s annual party in Eilat last weekend. It showed a busload of students being waylaid in the desert by three Arabs depicted in the equivalent of how the worst Nazi propagandists depicted Jews – grotesquely ugly and hairy, howling, leering, bent on homosexual gang rape. Playing in the background was twangy Arabic music.

The students posted the film on the college Student Union’s Facebook page, and the outraged comments started appearing. But so did the approving ones, according to the Student Union, as reported by The Times of Israel

The clip was quickly taken down by the student union, which said it would exercise more caution in the future while insisting that the film had been taken out of context and blown out of proportion.

“The clip is meant for comedic purposes only, and it was only meant to entertain while getting the students excited about the traditional vacation in Eilat that will take place this weekend,” the union said. “In less than one day, the video received thousands of positive reactions alongside criticism. We had no intention of hurting any population, and if someone was offended from the video directly or indirectly we sincerely apologize.”

I don’t know which is more stupefying in its moral numbness, the movie or the “apology.” They were just having some good clean fun. They didn’t mean to hurt anybody. It was taken out of context, blown out of proportion. And my favorite – if anyone was offended (which they still can’t understand why that should be, but, being the noble, humble people they are, then by all means) they apologize.

They honestly don’t know what they did wrong. They’re genuinely stumped that anyone could find what they did not funny, but ugly, sickening, vicious, sadistic. And when they realize that a whole lot of people reacted that way, that they’re in trouble, they immediately try to cover their asses by pleading innocence and pointing out all the support they got – and they truly don’t understand what’s wrong with that, either.

I know that there are people like this in every country. But I also know that this is an authentic Israeli type. Those college kids are the real-life basis of countless stock characters in Israeli comedy – the crude, dependably racist boor who says whatever he wants to anyone he wants, who thinks he – or she – is funny but is, of course, unbearable. The thing is, in the comedy routines, they’re usually lower-class, salt-of-the-earth characters; the people who made this film go to college, they run their college’s Student Union. Education doesn’t seem to have helped them, or the thousands of their peers who registered “positive reactions” to the film.

I wish I could say that if we end the occupation this sort of behavior will fade away in this country. But it won’t. It might diminish by a fraction, but Israel is a breeding ground for boors, always has been – in fact I think there are a lot fewer of them here than when I arrived nearly 30 years ago – and boors just naturally gravitate to racism. Why Israel produces so many of them, at every level of society, is a huge question. I think the answer starts with the hard origins of the people, the circumstances, the land, and who knows where it ends.

Whatever, these people are here, they’re on patrol and checkpoint duty in the West Bank, and they’re coming home to take their place in society. And the fact that there are masses of Israelis who are utterly appalled by them doesn’t make up for their prevalence, their conspicuousness, and their resilience.

Every nation has its racist boors, but Israel has more than its share. Interestingly, it’s a type that used to be virtually unknown among Jews, before we became, as the song says, a free people in our own land.