The recent violent reactions by some fans of the Israeli soccer team Beitar Jerusalem to the first-ever signing of two Muslim players has brought attention to the issue of racism within Israeli society. For those unaware with the situation, an arson attack on the team’s headquarters following the announcement of the signing has been attributed to fans angry with the decision, the culmination of a violent campaign in protest of it. This anti-Muslim behavior exhibited has been attributed mainly to a group of fans known as “La Familia”, and although their extreme actions do not have much support outside of the group, there are many Jewish Israelis who sympathize with their notion that the team should remain “pure”.
This sympathy is an indicator of how widespread the issue of racism has become within Israel. A Dialog poll of 503 Jewish Israelis conducted in September 2012 found that “between a third and half of the Jewish population is overwhelmingly anti-Arab.” Specifically, 47% of Israeli Jews were found to be in support of transferring the Israeli Arab population to the Palestinian Authority. 42% responded that they do not want Arabs as neighbors in the same building and the same amount stated that they would not want an Arab child in the same classroom as their child. Additionally, 49% stated that Jewish Israelis should be treated better than Arabs. In May of last year a protest against African migrants involving 1000 Israelis in Tel Aviv broke down into violence, with demonstrators stopping taxis to search for migrants attacking and attacking any they found on the street.
The question that this raises is why these attitudes of racism exist to the extent that they do. Israel is a state that was formed in response to the genocide committed against the Jewish people of Europe during World War 2 that was the result of racism. It has a law in place that prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, age or political beliefs. It is also a signatory of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination treaty which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, ect. In addition to this Israeli President Shimon Peres has stated “There are no two kinds of citizens here; citizens of only one kind exist in Israel — and all are equal in the eyes of the law.”
Despite the official stance opposing racism there exist many policies that seem to promote the idea of separation. There is a heavy emphasis on maintaining Israel as a “Jewish State” that often results in discrimination. In areas of high non-Jewish populations efforts are often made to “Judaise” the area, for example in 2005 when Israeli President Shimon Peres told US officials he was concerned over land “lost” to Bedouin tribes in the Negev and that he would have to take steps to relieve the “demographic threat”. When Israel began expelling thousands of African migrants last year, many of them seeking work or political asylum, Interior Minister Eli Yishai justified the decision saying that an influx of migrants threatened the country’s “Jewish character”. In the same Dialog poll mentioned before, 58% of respondents stated that they believe Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians. When a recent study funded by the US State Department found that both Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks are depicting the others negatively the Israeli Education Ministry opposed the study and refused to cooperate, calling it “tendentious” and “unprofessional”.
When the Israeli government pursues policies such as these it contributes significantly to the cultural barriers that can lead to ignorance and hate. When the practice of separating different groups of people within the same society from one-another and the viewpoint of one of those peoples’ culture as being superior to others becomes institutionalized it should come as little surprise when racist thoughts and ideas simultaneously become widespread among the public. Not only does this create further problems for achieving peace with Palestinians, but can also lead to conditions that could result in atrocities being committed in the name of ethnic-cleansing, a phenomenon the Jewish people are tragically all-too familiar with themselves.