Israeli Anti-Racism Neutralized by 'Social Justice'
Non-Jewish African people are attacked in Tel Aviv but many liberal Jews professing to be their allies say more efforts should be directed towards inter-Jewish solidarity than towards combating racism.
- Only hours after the coordinated firebombing of dwellings of African people and a kindergarten for African children in Israel in late April, Jewish activists assembled on the streets of the south Tel Aviv neighborhood where the attacks had taken place and staged a protest against racist violence. The extreme violence had catalyzed the protestors, who expressed some of the most militant anti-racist statements that Israel has seen in recent years, recalling slogans used by groups like North America's Anti-Racist Action (ARA).
- In one photo from the protest, an activist is holding a sign that depicts a person kicking over a racist, identified by the logo of Kahane Chai, a Jewish Supremacist group, on his chest. The text on the signs reads, in Hebrew: "Nighty-night, stinking fascist". Another demonstrator in the background is holding a sign that reads, in Hebrew, "Love Thy Neighbor".
- In a second photo of the protest, two more people are holding signs in Hebrew. The one with the swastika and a red "NO" bar crossing it says, "Violence - Racism - Nationalism - Not in our neighborhood!". The other sign with a white fist and a black fist criss-crossing, says, "We are all united against racism". Another sign in the background says "Africans are welcome" in English, and "The neighborhood is against racism" in Hebrew.
- A third sign reads, in English: "Refugees are welcome here / Fascist scums are not!". The activists also carried signs in Arabic and Tigrigna, two languages that many African people living in south Tel Aviv are more familiar with.
- The protest enraged some of the residents of the neighborhood, who clashed with the activists, ripping up some of their signs. Police arrived at the scene and were required to restrain some of these residents.
- In the days to follow, those anti-racist activists received a good deal of public criticism from other Jewish Israelis. These other activists, who claim that they also oppose racism against African people, criticize the protesters for their tactics. They say the protestors should not have staged a demonstration in the neighborhood where the attacks occurred, but in front of government offices instead. They say the protesters should not have demonstrated against 'racism', and but only against 'violence'. They say that the protestors should not have held any signs in languages other than Hebrew. An op-ed piece by Yael Ben-Yefet encapsulates this position.
- Most of the Jewish residents of the neighborhood are Mizrahim, whose families migrated to Israel from Arab countries, and are not part of the country's economic elite. Their standard of living has deteriorated due to increased competition for scarce resources from the African people that have moved into these neighborhoods in significant numbers in recent years. Because they themselves are economically disadvantaged, the argument goes, they should not be protested but courted, convinced to funnel their fury at the government that ignores their economic predicament, instead of at unleashing it at their new non-Jewish neighbors.
- A week after the first series of firebomb attacks against African people in Tel Aviv, another set of firebomb attacks against African people took place in another neighborhood of south Tel Aviv. Again, thankfully, no injuries were reported.
- Days later, a Tel Aviv municipality office that provides some services for migrants from Africa received a phone call in which the caller threatened to bomb them and "burn all the foreigners". In response, the Tel Aviv city counsellor who has spearheaded the drive to expel non-Jewish African people from south Tel Aviv announced that he would be distributing 'mace' to Jewish residents of the area.
- Ironically, the city's counsellor's announcement that he would arm Jewish residents of south Tel Aviv with mace came just days after some of his constituents had put the weapon to use. Israeli media reported that in the days following the first firebombing attack on Africans, a group of Israelis in south Tel Aviv used mace to gaybash an Israeli man walking through the neighborhood.
- When Jewish residents of south Tel Aviv hold racists rallies, calling on the government to expel all non-Jewish African people, they do not hold these rallies in front of government offices in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, they hold the rallies in south Tel Aviv, in the areas most heavily populated by African people. Why should anti-racist rallies be held anywhere but the same neighborhoods where the racist attacks take place?
- When Jewish residents of south Tel Aviv hold rallies accusing African people of perpetrating acts of violence against them, they do not rally against violence, decrying all forms of violence against all people. They rally against Africans, accusing them even of being collectively responsible for all acts of violence perpetuated by any African person. Why should anti-racist activists refrain from calling out people who support attacks on families and children, not for any crime they allegedly commit, but simply for being African? Like this Eritrean man, who was stabbed by a group of Jewish Israelis, the night before the first fire-bombings.
- Why, as Yael Ben Yefet proposes, should holding signs in English and Arabic "add fuel to the fire" and "create complete alienation between the residents and the protestors"? After all, isn't the very reason that Ben Yefet argues for the neighborhood residents to be treated with kid gloves is that they are the descendants of Jews who migrated to Israel from Arabic-speaking countries? If the neighborhood residents are Arab Jews, why should they be enraged by signs in Arabic? After all, isn't Arabic supposed to be one of the country's official languages?
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