Dec 19, 2010

Daniel Gordis On Racism In Israel

Daniel Gordis wrote a great piece on racism, relating to the Sudanese refugees, relating to Arabs in Israel, and what a person would never say in America but must be said in Israel. He basically says the same thing I said recently, but he says it so much better. That's why he gets paid to write while I write a blog..

Gordis writes:
When our kids want to tell us that we’re totally out of touch, they stare at us with a look of complete exasperation, and then say, with utter derision, “You’re so American.”

They don’t mean that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with America or with Americans. They simply mean that the categories that we grew up with as the products of liberal, democratic-voting, civilrights- engaged, suburban American Jews cannot always apply to life here.

This past Shabbat, I asked our son, Avi, about someone with whom I was thinking of doing some work, but about whom I was also worried. I knew that Avi knew him, and so I asked, “Is he a racist?”

Avi looked at me, surprised, and thought for a moment. “No, not any more than you or me,” he said.

I was stunned. “Just what is that supposed to mean?”I asked.

“Look,” he said, with that tone that meant he knew I wouldn’t like what was to follow, even though he was right. “This guy you’re asking about believes in Israel being a Jewish state. He knows that that’s not going to happen by accident. If by racist, you mean that he thinks that some possibly unpopular things need to be done to keep this country Jewish, then yes, he’s a racist. And so are you. And so am I. But if you mean, ‘Does he hate Arabs’ or anything like that, then, no, he’s not at all a racist.”

He was right, of course. Those categories that work in America, and that actually make America great, are not always applicable here. Here, a different kind of calculus and a different sort nuance are necessary.

THIS WEEK, real wisdom hid between the extreme positions so commonly staked out in this country. There was the fatwa against Israelis who would “dare” rent or sell their homes to Arabs. Dozens of rabbis have signed the letter forbidding such sale, while a smaller number have also had the courage to reject it outright. But virtually no one has pointed out that the choice isn’t a simply one between racism and human rights. It’s more complicated.

Obviously, it is mortifying to live in a country where “religious” leaders speak about Arabs the way that the enemies of the Jews spoke about us for centuries in Europe. And yes, as some observers have noted, it is virtually impossible to imagine a rabbi in the US saying anything remotely similar.

But the US isn’t Israel, and America does not need to struggle to guarantee its Christian nature. Our society, though largely Jewish now, could easily become something very different with time. If that is what these rabbis meant to say, they were right.

Apply the ethnicity-blind standards of American life here, and in a generation or two, Israel’s Jewish quality might be gone.

Why, after all, are most Israelis and American Zionists opposed to the Palestinian “right of return”? Isn’t that also a human rights issue? The answer, of course, is that on that issue, people recognize that the country’s Jewish character is at stake. Allow the refugees to return, and Jews become a minority almost overnight. (That is precisely why the Palestinians insist on it.)

Obviously, wanton discrimination in housing ought to have no place here. But if we had rabbinic leadership that had been educated differently, that had read more widely, that knew how to think and write with nuance, these rabbis (if they are not outright racists) might have served an important social cause by expressing an important warning in a more palatable, less hateful way.

SO, TOO, with the recent “voluntary repatriation” of some 150 Sudanese refugees who were quietly ushered out of the country.

There’s much we still don’t know about that story, but on the surface, it stings. After all, we’ve taken great pride in our having given modern meaning to “do not oppress the stranger, for you, too, were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

These strangers literally came via the land of Egypt. For a long time, we took them in – not perfectly, but in large numbers. And we were justifiably proud.

But there are many hundreds of thousands of such people desperately seeking a better life. We might like to be their refuge, but can we? We’ve had no national conversation about that. Our government, like “our” rabbis, has failed to engender real conversation about issues critical to the future of the state.

The outcry about the Sudanese repatriation will be vicious. We’ll be accused of not living up to our biblical mandate, and of racism. But whether that accusation will be fair depends on what one means by racism. If the standard is to be the American standard, by which every decision about security, housing and immigration must be ethnicity- blind, then yes, there are things that Israel does that are racist.

But if the goal is to be not American, but Israeli, to be as humane as possible while doing the sometimes difficult things that are necessary to guarantee a long-term Jewish quality of this country, we’re going to have to learn to remind both our supporters and our detractors why this country exists in the first place.

One of the most fascinating stories in the aftermath of the Carmel Forest catastrophe was that after the death of a 16-year-old volunteer firefighter, there’s been a significant upsurge in the number of high school kids who want to volunteer. Young people here still want to believe in this country.

Thousands of other people protested the fatwa in Tel Aviv. There’s still a deep reservoir of commitment, and goodness, on which to draw here.

Imagine a national conversation in which we acknowledged the difficult choices that lie ahead, and struggled together with how to make decisions that are Jewish, humane and strategically smart. Imagine an Israel wrestling once again with the question of what kind of society it wanted to be. Imagine a prime minister who saw his role as engendering such a conversation. Imagine.

11 comments:

  1. That was really, seriously, scary. Here's that quote again with a few minor changes (ask your grandparents if they remember hearing anything like this):
    But the US isn’t Germany, and America does not need to struggle to guarantee its Christian nature. Our society, though largely Aryan now, could easily become something very different with time. If that is what these Nazis meant to say, they were right.

    Apply the ethnicity-blind standards of American life here, and in a generation or two, Germany’s Aryan quality might be gone.

    Why, after all, are most Germans and other Aryans opposed to the Jewish “right to live here”? Isn’t that also a human rights issue? The answer, of course, is that on that issue, people recognize that the country’s Aryan character is at stake. Allow the untermentchen to return, and Aryans become a minority almost overnight. (That is precisely why the Jews insist on it.)

    Obviously, wanton discrimination in housing ought to have no place here. But if we had political leadership that had been educated differently, that had read more widely, that knew how to think and write with nuance, these politicians (if they are not outright racists) might have served an important social cause by expressing an important warning in a more palatable, less hateful way.

    SO, TOO, with the recent “voluntary repatriation” of some 150 Polish-Jewish refugees who were quietly ushered out of the country.

    There’s much we still don’t know about that story, but on the surface, it stings. After all, we’ve taken great pride in our having given modern meaning to “do not oppress the stranger, for you, too, were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

    These strangers came via the land of Poland. For a long time, we took them in – not perfectly, but in large numbers. And we were justifiably proud.

    But there are many hundreds of thousands of such people desperately seeking a better life. We might like to be their refuge, but can we? We’ve had no national conversation about that. Our government, like “our” priests, has failed to engender real conversation about issues critical to the future of the state.

    The outcry about the Ostjuden repatriation will be vicious. We’ll be accused of not living up to our Christian mandate, and of racism. But whether that accusation will be fair depends on what one means by racism. If the standard is to be the American standard, by which every decision about security, housing and immigration must be ethnicity- blind, then yes, there are things that Germany does that are racist.

    But if the goal is to be not American, but Aryans, to be as humane as possible while doing the sometimes difficult things that are necessary to guarantee a long-term Aryan quality of this country, we’re going to have to learn to remind both our supporters and our detractors why this country exists in the first place.

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  2. I hear you, but Israel wasnt meant to be a melting pot country. It is meant to be a homeland for the Jews.

    Plenty of nations have their land and limit foreigners access and ability to buy land, to take residence and the like. Even the USA and every other democratic European country has limits on who can come in and who can reside within.

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  3. how do you propose the Jewish character of the State be preserved?

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  4. J, I'm not comfortable with your use of the "nazi" analogy to make your point. The nazis dealt with this issue by murdering people, not by limiting their ability to rent an apartment. There are Arabs areas where Jews are not allowed to rent, or buy land as well. It's more like a mutual understanding that the Rabbis shouted out. I also read somewhere else that it's an issue of security - Arabs kill Jews. In terms of the Sudanese, there is no good answer, but Israel is not their solution. America is in a better position to take these people.

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  5. I think the US also has standards for naturalization of citizens and even green cards that include things like the person and the spouse and children he brings with him can't be associated with terrorists.

    And why can't "Palestinians" return to the newly divided Palestine? Jews used to live in many places before 1948, but if we agree to a subsection of the Middle East the others should also.

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  6. J, yours is the knee-jerk Liberal response to any comment perceived Nationalist(racist.) Whether you like it or not, we are deigned by the Almighty to be a nation apart. Will you now call the creator a Nazi? Do you also go through the Torah and Tanach and rearrange the words so they sound "offensive" to worshipers of diversity and multiculturalism? We are in dire straights because we let political correctness define our speech and action. Can't you possibly see the disastrous results of hundreds of thousands of Africans in our tiny state without resorting to using the pathetic Nazi canard on top of the others problems facing us today? Israel is struggling to survive against the type of silliness you just emoted. Quit with the 'you-sound-like-a Nazi' for having the gall to want the Nation of Israel to survive. I don't care about how offensive the Truth "sounds" and neither should you. Shame on you! I pray for Hashem to open your eyes.

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  7. J, anyone can be a Jew. That alone knocks your German analogy to the wayside. Beyond that Israel is a country with guaranteed rights for their minorities. That's why this "fatwa" would never fly legally.

    Further if you have any clue as to what's going on in Europe right now you know that, country by country, they are on the verge of being swallowed whole by Islamists. Their so-called liberal ideology will not only be the cause of the elimination of the very values they purportedly hold dear, but could very will bring the world to a 3rd world war. And it's not clear that the good guys will win this time.

    Gordis did a remarkable job of outlining the tension we here in Israel face between our democratic and Zionist values. Neither radical left positions, like yours, or radical right positions like the Rabbis are going to see us through this.

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  8. while I am not sure what the signing this ban letter was supposed to accomplish other than make headlines, it seems clear that not one person in RBS or Sheinfeld, Noofei Aviv whtrher you consider yyouref conservative or liberal would sel yoour house to an arab and you would be upset if your neighbor did. Or if a bunch of arabs bouight houses and set up thier own minyan next to your shul.

    So, aside from being pointless, what was wrong the Rabbis letter?

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. Garfield, it's no secret that most people would prefer that people like them live near them. However, personal preferences don't necessarily make for good public policy, especially in a democracy.

    Here's a thought experiment. Would you rather have move next door to you a Druze family who's father and four sons proudly served in the IDF and who are a working middle class family or a family of Nuteri Karta who's father and four sons proudly burn Israeli flags and meet with the likes of Yassar Arafat and Aminedajad? (It's a no-brainer for me.) The point is that people want others that are most like them near them. We've got some real nut-case Israelis living on our block that I'm sure their immediate neighbors would prefer be replaced with "normal" Arabs.

    As for what was wrong with the letter. It makes us look like fools. Further it undermines the basis for support of many of our friends. In the US the majority of citizens, congress, and the senate support us primarily based on the idea that we have "shared values". A proclamation like this, by a number of supposedly respected clergy shoots these supporters in the foot.

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  11. Menachem,

    your analogy incorrect. While certainly you have 'preferences' for neighbors - we all like some people more than others - this is not the same as not wanting arabs. I guess that if you knew an arab personally to be a decent fellow you wouldn't mind if he moved in ( so long that he doesn't change the face of the neighborhood) but the assumption by most people about arabs is - indecent until proven decent. (agav - the NK live acroos from sheinfeld and the only reason there is oppostion to them is b/c of the obnoxious behavior and the inabiolity to understand the "...and let live" part - not the NK beleifs per se.
    And even then no one is trying to kick the NK out. Just l'hitmoded.

    Were arabs to attempt to move in I think it would be a different story.

    But the main point is - what do you mean by bad public policy? this sounds hypcritical or even incoherent - as 10000 individuals we can all discriminate but not as one voice?

    Maybe you mean - it was a stupid thing to publicize. On this I agree with you. just because the truth is on your side dos not me the rest of the world agrees with your point of view and it is silly to make public statemnts which you know will not be accepted unless there is something crucial and tangible you are tryign to achieve (and you have a good shot of achiving it)

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