Racism in Israeli Society: Winning Elections, Spewing Hate

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played the race card in a final attempt to get out the vote last month, it displayed to all the world how such bigoted rhetoric has deep appeal in Israeli society: The effort was successful and swept him to yet another term as head of state.

As voters were going to the polls, he said on Israeli television that Palestinian citizens of the state (“Arabs” in Israeli terms) were “streaming in droves to the polling stations” and “right-wing rule [was] in danger.” At the time, surveys showed his rival Isaac Herzog leading, but the final tally gave Netanyahu a decisive victory.

Here we have a topic worthy of inquiry: How is it possible that the leader of a democracy can make such an openly racist appeal to voters? And what is it in Israeli society that responds to this kind of incitement?

The New York Times has reported Netanyahu’s words, adding that “opponents accused him of baldfaced racism,” but it has failed to go beyond these brief remarks. Times articles tell us, for instance, that Netanyahu’s remarks “appear racist” or were criticized as being racist, but they stop short of acknowledging that Israeli society has a problem with ethnic bigotry.

Times readers never learn, for instance, that Israeli buses are segregated by ethnicity, that nearly 50 percent of Israelis want Arab citizens of the state transferred to the Palestinian Authority, that Israeli youth recently marched through the Old City of Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs” (just the latest example of such displays) and that more than 50 Israeli laws discriminate against non-Jews.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reporting on a recent Hebrew language book on Israeli school life, notes that “ethnic hatred has become a basic element in the everyday life of Israeli youth.” The book quotes students who boast about their eagerness to kill Palestinians. “I’m ready to kill someone with my hands,” a 10th grade girl says. “I wish them death.”

After more of this kind of example, the article states: “One conclusion that arises from the text is how little the education system is able—or wants—to deal with the racism problem.”

In the Times, however, we find no talk of a “racism problem” in Israel, even though this bigotry goes beyond hatred of Palestinians to encompass other non-Jews. The state has been imprisoning and deporting asylum seekers from Africa, for instance, and Africans in Tel Aviv have faced throngs of violent protesters demanding their expulsion.

But even as the newspaper has been silent in the face of all this, it has promoted discussion of anti-Semitism. In recent weeks, the Times has run two overblown stories about complaints of anti-Semitism on American college campuses (see TimesWarp here and here), a David Brooks column on how to combat the phenomenon internationally and an editorial about soccer fans in Europe. It also made much of the anti-Semitism issue after gunmen took over a Jewish market in Paris and left four dead earlier this year.

The Brooks column ran just as the conversation about the election was at its peak, as Netanyahu was backtracking from his remarks about Arab voters and fudging on a claim that he would never allow a Palestinian state. This was a perfect time to dig more deeply into the troubling signs of racism in Israel.

Instead, readers were offered the Brooks piece, which appears to rely heavily on sources such as hyper-alarmist press releases from the Anti-Defamation League to support evidence of growing anti-Semitism.

When the Times ran an editorial about racist soccer chants in Europe last week, it had nothing to say about a notable example out of Israel—the openly racist Beitar Jerusalem team, which refuses to sign Palestinian players and is noted for its fans’ racist chants and banners. Its supporters also made news when hundreds staged a walkout after a non-Jewish team member (a Chechen Muslim) scored a goal.

Segregated bus lines, the racist chants of Israeli youth and public opinion that favors the transfer of minorities from the state are eminently newsworthy topics, but the newspaper shows little interest in informing readers of such things. The Times would have us believe that Israelis are the victims—but not the perpetrators—of ethnic violence, and it gives short shrift to news that fails to support this script.

Barbara Erickson

[For a full and close-up look at Israeli racism, see Goliath by Max Blumenthal.]

No Room for Dissent: The Times Hews to the Israeli Line

One is a bizarre and improbable story: A Jordanian judge goes berserk at a border crossing and grabs a soldier’s gun. He has to be shot dead on the spot.

The other is a story recycled for propaganda effect: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displays arms seized from a ship last week, repeating his charge that the rockets were bound for Gaza and sent by Iran.

The New York Times has them both today, the first by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren and the second by Isabel Kershner. Both of them fail in the same way, discarding details that fall outside the official Israeli narrative.

According to Rudoren’s account, a 38-year-old Jordanian judge of Palestinian descent tried to grab a soldier’s gun at the Allenby Bridge crossing on Monday before seizing a metal bar and shouting “Allahu akbar (God is great).” She quotes Col. Yaron Beit-On as saying, “The soldiers understood they had no way to handle him; they used a gun and they shot him. They were in danger.”

Rudoren does not explain how the man threatened the soldiers or why they could not incapacitate him otherwise. She acknowledges that “Palestinian and Jordanian officials questioned the Israeli account,” but she dismisses their concerns in one sentence: “Colonel Beit-On said it was based on interviews with witnesses, including the Jordanian bus driver.”

So much for the other side of the story. She goes no further than the Israeli army spokesman, even when the killing involves a Jordanian judge from the magistrate court in Amman. The fact that Netanyahu apologized today for the killing throws even more doubt on the official account.

Times readers will have to look elsewhere for the competing narrative. The Los Angeles Times cites Jordanian reports that the judge, Raed Zeiter, reached for a metal detector as he was being searched and made no effort to seize a gun. Al Jazeera states that witnesses described nothing but a verbal altercation between Zeiter and a soldier. (Also see an extensive eyewitness account at this site.)

Al Jazeera, the Los Angeles Times and other outlets also place the killing in context, noting that Amnesty International recently released a report on “trigger happy” Israeli soldiers who killed 41 civilians between January 2011and December 2013. None of them posed any threat to the soldiers, the report said. The Times, however, makes no mention of this report.

The Kershner story on Iranian arms runs above the article about the judge’s killing. It comes with a photo of Netanyahu inspecting rockets and missiles in Eilat on Monday, and it describes the event as “a public relations spectacle” designed to expose “the true face of Iran” to the world.

Although Kershner calls the event a spectacle, this is the only note of irony or skepticism in the story. It then goes on to quote the prime minister on his anger at the “hypocrisy” of the international community for engaging in talks with Iran. It also quotes Israelis who support his version of events.

Missing from her story are the denials from officials in Iran and Gaza that the weapons either originated in Iran or were bound for Hamas in Gaza. Other media outlets follow normal journalistic procedures and include these denials. (See Reuters, for instance, and BBC.)

Kershner’s story also ignores other takes on the arms shipment seizure, such as that by blogger Richard Silverstein, who notes that even if arms came from Iran, this is no proof that they were supplied by the government. Her article stays well within the official Israeli narrative and never quotes Iranian officials, Hamas or any of the international players who come under fire from the prime minister.

Moreover, there is a third story tucked into the pages of the Times today, an add-on at the end of the article about the Jordanian judge. Rudoren tells us in one paragraph that the Israeli army also killed Saji Sayel Darwish, 20, on Monday when soldiers opened fire on a group throwing rocks at vehicles near the settlement of Beit El.

Rudoren again fails to include any comments beyond those emanating from the army itself when, in fact, other accounts dispute the army’s claims. Yahoo news reports that the man’s family said he was herding goats at the time he was shot. Yahoo quotes an official source, Laila Ghannam, Palestinian governor of nearby Ramallah: “There were no signs of clashes in the area and it was clear by the man’s clothes he was there to take care of the goats.”

The murdered judge Raed Zeiter, young Saji Darwish, Iranian officials and Hamas officials never receive their due in the pages of the Times. Israeli soldiers, responsible for two killings, are allowed to give their explanations in full. The Israeli prime minister receives the attention he demands. Others are denied a voice.

Barbara Erickson