While Italy is shaking with earthquakes, Israel has been shaking with a different sort of wave: the shattering wave of racism.
Maybe if there was an earthquake right now, people would come back to themselves and truly see what is important in life, and somehow would remember how to behave to one another. But in the meantime, people are busy throwing eggs at African immigrants, fueling angry mobs and calling each other names, calibrated on your skin color and to the harshness of your opinion on migrant workers and refugees.
It is very surprising and very well timed that just two days ago I received a letter from a teacher I had in 8th grade, and to whom I had not spoken in decades. He wrote me that in his 30 years career, he never forgot the excellent paper I composed for my final exam, a 14 pages dissertation exactly on the subject of immigration – a phenomenon which was just dawning back then. He complimented me for the maturity of the writing, which he stills occasionally brings up as example to his students. I am really curious what the thoughts of myself as a 13 years old could have been on such a complex and tangled subject, as I have no particular recollection of that paper. Today, if I had to write a 14 pages dissertation on immigration, I would not know how to fill the pages other than with despair.
It seems that racism is an inevitable attitude of the human mind, which takes on different shapes and different intensity at different times in history, considering that human history is a story of migration. I wonder if there is something which can effectively be said that will bring someone to reconsider racist beliefs, and what would that thing be. That we are all created equals, and that our blood is exactly the same red color? No. The world is too crowded and damaged to be sentimental. You could point out that history teaches how Peoples with different ethnic backgrounds went through periods where they have been immigrants to a foreign place, be it the Italians in the US, the Jews in Europe, the Filipinos in Israel etc. But not many really would care to look back and remember when we were poor, if he or she can afford not to.
Imagine a house which is full of children. They all have to live in this one house. Some rooms are bigger, with more attractive toys, so many of the children want to be in those rooms. Inevitably, fights develops and someone gets stomped in the process. How can an intelligent mother sedate the fightings? You can either install an iron discipline in the family, where every abuse on each other wull be punished, or you can rely on education to teach children the importance of sharing, collaborating and respecting each other. Or you can slowly slowly insinuate the idea that indeed some of the children in this family are better than others, and that the less “good” one should maybe be thrown out. Or you can do as the member of the Knesset and former spokesperson of the IDF Miri Negev did last week in Tel Aviv, when she said that “Sudanese are a cancer in our body“. And then you can sit back and watch the resulting riots.
On May 22nd, A violent mob developed against Africans following this incitement rally in South Tel Aviv. Windows were smashed by the angry residents, shops of honest traders were looted, innocent cars were hit and bins set on fire. Immigrants, legal or not, feared for their life. Journalists caught in the mob describes scenes of collective insanity, with the crowds blaming them for any kind of unpopular act (like throwing stones at the IDF and the like). Some had to run away or get evacuated by police. Afterwards, Miri Negev tried to deny saying what she did, but luckily enough she was filmed and her words are loud and clear and you can hear them on the internet.
In Israel, immigrants and refugees are referred to in Hebrew as “infiltrators”. Ad litteram. Like the enemies in a war-themed video game, or the patches of water on a moldy wall. This is not a joke. It is the official term the politicians use: “The infiltrator problem must be solved, and we will solve it,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said on TV after the demonstration in South Tel Aviv turned violent. If you call someone an infiltrator, you cannot pretend to be neutral: you have already created an aura of negativity which enhances the process of dehumanization.
Words have power, they shape reality and our perception of it. Racism proliferates on misplaced words like this one. Consider this when watching the following video of the mob which formed around a woman who dared to speak out against the racism on the day of the demonstration. It is anthropologically fascinating how the crowd seems to fuel on itself: reciprocal glances of approval make people feel secure enough to let out the most despicable insults. Racism certainly seems to bring out the worst of people.
Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd. ~ Bertrand Russell
I am well aware of how difficult is to discuss immigration moderately. The spectre of the negro slave, with unquenchable sexual desires and a superior sexual power is still embedded in the mind of the White Man. When people run out of logical blames (they steal our jobs, pollute our streets, devalue our real estate, ruin what used to be a paradise – claims which can be discussed and mostly debunked see this useful article for that), they can always resort to that foolproof one.
I used to live in the African neighborhood in Paris, and I loved it. Full of flavors, markets, spices, women dressed in beautiful traditional dresses. The same sense of displacement and fascination I searched for in exotic travels abroad was right there, at my door. Yes, sometimes it was also weird, sometimes loud, sometimes too intense. But I would never trade it for the bourgeois boredom of the left bank neighborhoods. I lived there for five years. Africans may have different codes of being together, like hanging out in the streets in gangs, which is intimidating for those who do not know the rules. Especially for the wealthy who now live encapsulated in their huge living rooms, while playing with iPad/iPods and fighting attention disorders in our children. It is a fact that until we are not open to get to know the different, there will not be mutual understanding, but only fear and suspicion.
The world is globalized, we need to wake up. While it is legitimate and necessary to control immigration, nothing will ever suppress a very fundamental instinct of the human being: the aspiration to look for a better life. You will not stop it with barriers, not with laws, not with violence. In a matter of time, we will be forced to come to terms with this profound understanding, and focus more on the valuable sides to interracial friendship, as other western countries have already started to.
In Israel, the Jewish state, the issue of immigration and refugees is even more complicated, as it poses a threat to the demographic necessity of keeping a Jewish predominance. I don’t want to pose here for the columnist I am not. But I do believe that life is dynamic, and changes needs and will occur. Because ultimately, you cannot leave in a sealed box, even if it is called Israel.