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May 28, 2012

Israel: Hope for the future

A Guest Post by Dan Goldmeier

Hope for the future

I am an oleh, almost 2 years, from America. I love America; perhaps only because I was raised there. And though I love Israel too, I find myself ‘out of sorts’ in the Israeli culture.

There are parts of Israeli culture that I embrace wholeheartedly; they mostly revolve around food J; like chamin shipudia, and mimuna. And it’s deeply satisfying to organically feel connected to the geography and history of the land and my people.

But then there are the elements of the culture that disturb me, and I find myself comparing Israel to what I know, to my frame of reference, the U.S.

In my first 6 months in Israel I heard more racial, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic comments than I’d heard in my entire life. People think nothing of asking me, perhaps because I am new and from America, ‘so what do you think of the Ethiopians? The Temaniim? The Russians, the this or the that… When I express a lack of understanding their point, they make sure to clarify so I will be sure to get it. And inevitably the conversation ends with: ‘you’re new here so you have to understand, this is the culture here, it’s not America, this is the way it is and you have to get used to it.’

As shocking as it is to hear this level of degradation, which is always done with a smile and a joke, not because it’s funny but because deep down they know it’s wrong; as shocking as it is, the legal discrimination, the de jure segregation is the root problem; and the key to the solution.

In the U.S, after the Civil War ended and black slaves were made free, a number of southern states passed laws that blacks could not ride in railcars with whites. They argued that: freedom doesn’t mean integration it means equality. Therefore, if you give blacks their own railcars to ride, and you give whites their own railcars to ride, everyone is free and equal.

This concept of separate but equal was upheld in the Supreme Court ruling Plessy v. Ferguson.

And for the next 40 years or so, separate but equal was law of the land, which meant: separate water fountains, separate swimming pools, separate schools, separate living, separate separate separate.

Till one day a little girl name Rita May Brown wanted to attend the local school instead of having to walk a couple of miles over some railroad tracks to her dilapidated underfunded black kids school.

That case was called Brown v Board of Ed. (Topeka Kansas).

And the Supreme Court overturned Plessy V. Ferguson and said, ‘y’know what, we’ve seen 40 years of separate but equal and we see that separate but equal is not equal. Although hatred and racism in fact (de facto) exists in the real world, we cannot have any segregation by law in our laws, no de jure segregation.’ Therefore, because segregated systems and equality cannot co-exist, public life must be integrated.

And today the U.S. has an African-American President.

Right now Israel has both de facto and de jure segregation. Segregating Arabs, coercive religious practices in law, separate public school systems, and separate public transportation and on and on and on.

The hope for Israel is that this is the beginning, that we are at Plessy v Ferguson and will one day get to Brown V. Board of Ed.

The hope for Israel is that we are a young developing country and that the people will recognize that democracy is more than just one-person one vote, but the second leg of democracy is protection of equal rights.

As long as we have segregation on our books, we have no equal rights, and are not a fully democratic country.

The hope is we grow into democracy.

Dan Goldmeier: Lives in Hod-HaSharon and is a Writer, Teacher, and Entrepreneur.

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  1. Dovid from ModiinMay 28, 2012 3:54 PM

    Dan, Start looking for new friends.

  2. Excuse the lack of caps.
    The separate public schools here are by choice. Religious people want religious public school, arabs want arabic public school where instruction is in the Arabic language, secular Jews want secular Jewish schools. There are some mixed arab-jewish schools were both arabic and jewish curricula are taught. Some arabs choose to send to Jewish public schools, and they are not excluded. Some secular send to religious schools, and they are also not excluded.
    Get your facts straight before posting something which the whole world can see, and use against us.
    Rafi, why are you allowing a factually incorrect post on your blog!

  3. anon, you're absolutely right, but why don't you use a name?

  4. Classification of people is an Israeli pastime. Are you Dati, Hiloni, Hardal, Merkaz, Masorati, Ashkenazi, Sepharadi, Temani, Ethiopi, Russi, Anglo-Saxi, Left, Right, or what? Whether imposed or voluntary, over-classification and segregation is indeed one of the biggest problems that this country faces. The simple fact is that we cannot get on together. Why are there separate towns and neighborhoods designated for datiim and hilonim (some enforced by entrance committees), separate academic programs, schools of every shade and splinter? Why do datiim and hilonim do different bagrut exams in history, not to mention of course Tanach?

    The issue with the Arab population is more complex. Both sides are still at war and neither side wants to mix. When Jews can travel and lives safely among Arabs without fearing for their lives or a court order and international condemnation, I believe that Arabs will be able to travel and live comfortably (they can already do safely) among Jews. That day is a long way off.

    I agree with Anon that Dan has his facts slighty off, but he has hit here one of the ills of Israeli society.

  5. I agree with Rafi(S), and Rafi(G), thanks for presenting a fresh perspective.

  6. Dovid: I didn't say they were my friends, I said people... like shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and etc...

    Anon: Without equal rights ingrained in law instead of democracy you have rule of majority. So what you see as voluntary segregation is in essence, de jure segregation because these laws are 'on the books.' Voluntary segregation would be if arabs went to private funded schools just for arabs and if orthodox jews went to privately funded orthodox schools and seculars to privately funded secular. There is no such thing as voluntary segregation with public funding. That is exactly the point of Brown v Board of Ed. And that is exactly the hope I have for Israel, that it disbands the rule by majority for ingrained equal rights in law.

    Rafi S: I did not know that Israel is at war with the Arabs of Abu Gosh (for example)
    And this issue is much deeper than schooling, I also mentioned transportation, housing, armed services, coercive religious practices and many many other examples.

  7. Its not an "Israeli" thing and these types of aggressive behaviors are practiced by anglos as well. Sometimes madness takes root and people band together and dislike another group (or family or individual). Its almost in the human DNA and Heaven Forbid you are on the wrong side when it happens. Very painful emotionally. We used to live in Nofei Aviv but because the locals apparently didnt like the way we (take a guess, dressed? acted? looked?) we were very socially isolated. My kids were teased and told "we cant wait for you to move out" and "my family hates your family" we were not well treated. And these were all Americans! Thankfully when our rental ended we moved and have found a lovely mixed area. My point is the type of awful behavior described is not relegated only to non anglos.

  8. Instead of Israel forcing uniform Israeli culture on populations that don't want or giving them the choice of paying for it on their own or attending uniform Israeli culture schools, the government gives them the option to have the government fund schools that educate them according to their desired culture.
    Brown vs. Brown was not voluntary.
    It is btw not only theorically possible for one group to attend another group's school. It really happens. There are secular families whose children attend mamlachti dati religious school in Ramat Bet Shemesh. There are arabs who attend Jewish mamlachti high schools.
    Most choose not to, it is their choice.
    You would rather the government force everyone to either pay or be together, and study the way the government dictates. Either way there are minimum requirements for all public schools, but religious schools include religious studies and prayer, and Arab schools include Arabic.

    anon is a name.

  9. Anonymous: I made no distinction between Anglos and non-anglos

    Anon: While there are some examples of different types of schools allowing 'others' to attend, there are far more cases of PUBLICLY FUNDED schools not allowing people to attend based on race, gender, creed, etc.

    Public schools should be standardized and attended primarily based upon geography. Segregation by law is not voluntary.
    Voluntary segregation is when individuals choose to segregate themselves without the use of public funds to promote segregation.

    Furthermore, you completely ignore both the other examples provided and the main point, which is, segregation by law is the opposite of equal rights and fundamentally in opposition to democracy.

    Not every culture is suited to democracy. There are numerous examples of countries/states which are free market systems and non-democratic. If Israel wants to be a free market theocracy that is perfectly fine. Who am I to judge what is appropriate for Israel. However, it is Israel herself which boasts and crows that she is a democracy and , "the only democracy in the middle east." So clearly Israel wants to be a democracy and not simply a free market system with some democratic elements. And to be a democracy you need equal rights codified in law.

    You don't get to change the meaning of democracy just because you don't want to pay for private school.

    Finally, if we want to change behavior and create a cohesive society, you must get rid of segregation by law. You cannot have a segregated and prejudiced legal system and expect the society to behave any better.

  10. One last thought:
    I don't think that is what democracy means. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

    I don't see why "publicly funded" necessarily contradicts "voluntary". Especially when each group receives funding. If you want to claim (as some have) that funding is not fairly distributed, that is certainly something to be investigated.

    The ministry of education can and does force a public school to accept a student or hire a teacher.

    Private schools can be eligible for partial government funding.

  11. Anon:

    a few quick points:

    1- again, not sure why you keep harping on the school issue. We all know that there is segregation by law in schooling and especially in publicly funded schools which are operated as private schools. That there are good and integrated schools in existence does not negate the point whatsoever.

    2- again, why harp on schooling, there are numerous other examples as well, such as coercive religious practices, transportation, armed forces, legislative and on and on. Schooling is simply one example of many where segregation is enshrined in law.

    3- Democracy does include equality. I posted a few lines from the article you posted: and again, Israel does not need to be a democracy, perhaps culturally democracy with equal rights is not appropriate for Israel. Perhaps we are better suited to a free-market representative form of theocracy, or socialism or something else. But it is unreasonable to call oneself a democracy when it does not include equality by law. Which is inherently the problem people have with voting in Gaza and Egypt and other places; because when you are looking out the window, you understand that you want them to have the vote and enforce equal rights. You understand that just one person one vote is not enough. It is only looking inwardly that you miss the danger of a society with segregation by law.

    From site:

    "Elements considered essential to democracy include freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that citizens are adequately informed and able to vote according to their own best interests as they see them. The term "democracy" is often used as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include elements such as political pluralism; equality before the law; the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances; due process; civil liberties; human rights; and elements of civil society outside the government.

    While there is no universally accepted definition of 'democracy',[7] equality and freedom have both been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times.[8] These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes."



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