Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Israel: Jewish, Democratic... & White

Anti-African pogrom in Israel? What anti-African pogrom? To my knowledge, the only Australian ms media reference to Tel Aviv's anti-African refugee pogrom of May 23 came on SBS' World News program.

Briefly, after attending a rally in south Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighbourhood addressed by Likud MKs, one of whom described Israel's African refugees as a 'cancer in our society', a Jewish mob went on the rampage, smashing shop and car windows, and beating up any Africans they could find.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier set the scene by referring, at a cabinet meeting, to the refugees as "illegal infiltrators flooding the country," and adding that, "[i]f we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state." (Israel PM: illegal African immigrants threaten identity of Jewish state, Harriet Sherwood, guardian.co.uk, 20/5/12)

After viewing some of the video footage of the pogrom, I couldn't help but notice that the most frequent insult on the lips of the mob was the word kushi, generally translated from the Hebrew as 'nigger'. Written, web-based accounts, corroborate this:

"I went to a demonstration led by MK Michael Ben-Ari 2 days ago... and was joined by my girlfriend, Galina. Ben-Ari, a Kahanist, was inciting the crowd against the African refugees in a distinctly anti-Semitic manner, peppering his talk with incessant references to excrement and urine. At some point, Galina couldn't take it any longer, and shouted something back. Within minutes we were surrounded by an angry mob of about 20 people, composed mostly of women, who hurled curses at her. Someone pulled out a tear gas canister and waved it at her face. Racist and sexual slurs filled the air repeatedly. Time and time again, people expressed the wish she would be raped by Sudanese, and asked her if she was bedding them. A boy, between 10 and 11 years old, screamed at her point blank that what she needs is a 'nigger's cock'..." (Thoughts on an attack by a Jewish mob, Yossi Gurvitz, 972mag.com, 24/5/12)

Gurvitz reflects on the experience:

"And after the shock and fear, an attempt at understanding what took place. The legend that African refugees turned the paradise that was south Tel Aviv into a terrorized crime zone has to be rejected... Statistics proved time and time again the crime wave exists mostly in the minds of the politicians stoking the hatred, of which Ben-Ari is an ambitious competitor. I lived in Hatikva for 2 years; I've seen the people, the despair, the fear at nights, the absence of infrastructure, the flooding every winter when the sewage system collapsed - with my own eyes. Spare me the bullshit about a quiet neighborhood of happy poor workers. First there's the economic hardship, which prevents people from getting an education and getting the hell out of there. Above it, we find Jewish supemacism, the concept of a Chosen People, 'every Jew is the son of a King'. Proud Jews are often people whose Jewishness is the only thing they can be proud of. The blow I received came after I was asked if I am a Jew, and replied in the negative." (ibid)

The 'n' word is apparently in such frequent use that it (and worse) has even been internalised by the refugees themselves:

"I accompanied a group of asylum-seeking children to their homes tonight, as we also do on the days of protests with potential racist developments. As usual we got barraged with swearwords, but policemen advised us about safer routes. The kids sang along the way: 'I'm a nigger, I'm a nigger, nigger, and I clean Israeli homes'. ('What, you don't know it, Rami? Look it up on Youtube'.) Two 12-year-old girls asked me if I know that pretty soon the Sudanese will suffer the same fate as Jews did in Germany. One asked the other to tell her about that man, Korczak, who saved children. They asked if he was Jewish and if he would have saved all the children. One girl asked me: 'What's the opposite of free?' I had trouble finding the word: imprisoned? shackled? She said: 'OK, whatever it is, say shackled, we were born shackled and we'll die shackled'. The girls asked me why the Israelis want to deport them. I asked them: If the streets in your country would suddenly fill up with white people that speak a different language you don't understand, what would you feel? One girl said: 'I'd become a teacher and teach them my language!' Toward the end two 12-year-old girls asked me: 'Say, Rami, if you were in our place, what would you have done?'" (African kids in Tel Aviv: They'll do to us what they did to Jews in Germany, Dimi Reider, 972mag.com, 23/5/12)

Another Israeli, Uri Horesh, explains:

"When I was growing up, kushi was a perfectly neutral term for 'black person', more like 'negro' in the 1960s than 'nigger' ever was. However, nowadays, since more Hebrew speakers in Israel actually know black people, and there are indeed black people living in Israel who speak Hebrew (including migrant African laborers, but of course, Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia), the connotations of kushi have shifted towards the negative - perhaps not to the degree of the taboo that is associated with 'nigger' in the American context, but it is gradually moving in that direction." (Kushi didn't always mean 'nigger', tlvphl.blogspot.com.au, 23/5/12)

One might assume from the testimony above that the kind of anti-black/white supremacist racism, which finds vivid expression in the use of the word 'nigger' on the streets of south Tel Aviv today, is a relatively recent development in Zionist history. Not so, apparently. Given that political Zionism is primarily a European settler-colonial power-trip, it should come as no surprise to find that earlier  generations of Zionists were far from immune to an obsession with European 'whiteness'.

Here, for example, British Jew and Zionist, Redcliffe Salaman, Regimental Medical Officer to the 39th Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Judean Battalion, writes of the arrival in Cairo on July 13, 1918 of the Jewish Battalions' latest batch of volunteers from Palestine's pre-World War I Jewish colonies. Salaman refers to them as "the Palestinians":

"The moment they rolled into the station I spotted a nigger amongst them, and before the train stopped I cleared that question up - his mother was a negress, his father a Sephardi (these Sephardim are a fearfully mixed lot; give me Ashkenazim for blue blood!). Then the types varied from blue-eyed handsome pseudo-Gentiles to dark, purely semitic Yemenites - and scattered between were a dozen, perhaps, of semi-negroid but often very handsome Moroccan Jews." (Palestine Reclaimed: Letters from a Jewish Officer in Palestine, 1920, pp 24-25)

Salaman adds, some pages later, that:

"The Yemenites are for the most part undersized and rather poor-spirited natives. They are not racially Jews. They are black, long-headed, hybrid Arabs. Last Saturday I worked with J. M. in the library and we got hold of every authority we could, and, from the historical evidence, it is at once clear that they have but a trace of Jewish blood in them though they probably have rather more than the Falashas. The real Jew is the European Ashkenazi, and I back him against all-comers." (ibid, p 28)

The irony of the Hatikva pogrom is that many of the participants may well have been the descendants of the very Yemeni Jews that Salaman scorned as insufficiently white to be really Jewish.

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