By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Many people are falling over eachother to condemn Donald Trump’s offensive statements asserting that Muslims should be banned from entering the US. From an American political perspective, there is ample reason to be outraged about Trumps endless stream of outrageous behavior.
On December 9th the outrage reached Israel as MK Omer Bar-Lev tweeted that Trump should not be welcome in the Knesset. JTA correspondent Benjamin Sales had also looked at whether a Trump-style politician could emerge in Israel.
Those Israelis who feign being offended by Trump need to take a long look in the mirror. From the standpoint of what is considered normal politics in Israel, Trump would be on the far left. Let’s recall that Trump’s most offensive statement is arguing for a ban on Muslims coming to America. In Israel the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric of politicians is normal. Politicians speak of not wanting “more Zuabiz” in the Knesset, not wanting to work with “the Zuabiz“, taking the name of one Arab female knesset member and turning it into every Arab. A majority of Knesset parties, including Zionist Union, vote to ban not only Zuabi but the Arab party Balad, from running for elections. Party leaders regularly demagogue against having more Arab members of the Knesset, usually formulated as “opposing binationalism.” The narrative is that the “problem” with the denial of rights to Palestinians in the West Bank is not so much the basic denial of civil rights, but merely that there are “too many” Palestinians.
Towns in Israel, such as Afula, openly protest against Arabs moving to them, and in smaller communities people tell reporters “we want a quiet community without Arabs.” This is on top of the incendiary rhetoric against African migrants, calling them a “cancer”, and surveys that find large segments of the Israeli public even support taking away voting rights from Arab citizens. Other segments of the Jewish public say they don’t want to live next to Arabs (47%), and many in the Arab public agree, they don’t want neighbors from “the other.”
Segregation and ethnocratic acceptance committees
Trump said he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the US? But in Israel Arab citizens are banned from living in around 1,000 communities by the Israeli phenomenon of “acceptance committees.” Basically every community outside of a town or city in Israel maintains a “committee” that can decide who may live in the community. These committees enforce rigorous homogeneity. Communities are not only “Jewish-only” but they also are often for only members of certain sub-groups, such as Ashkenazi secular Jews, or national religious Jews.
This isn’t hidden racism. This is open racism that exists throughout the country. This would be like if 90% of small towns in the US had a “Christian-white-only” policy. The few times Arabs wanted to move to these communities they had to fight multi-year court cases. Even Jewish citizens are denied the ability to live where they want based on arbitrary discrimination. One community told reporters that they didn’t want people with different “blood” moving into their segregated community.
If Trump had advocated banning Muslims and also banning them from living in non-Muslim areas, then he might be approaching Israel’s acceptance committee society. Who supports acceptance committees in Israel? Every single party, including the so-called “left” supports them. In fact many of these communities have made up the traditional voting block of the Labor party in Israel. Ethnic-religious segregation is accepted across the political spectrum in Israel.
But not only ethnic-religious segregation is accepted. 99% of schools in Israel are segregated into Arab or Jewish schools. This isn’t some right wing aberration, this is the heart and soul of the education system that was created at Israel’s founding and which was put in place by the ancestors of today’s Labor party. There has never been a “left” wing political party in Israel, including Meretz, that has fought to de-segregate the education system. If Trump had advocated segregating Muslims from the rest of the population or having “Christian-only” public schools, then he would be approaching Israel’s normal and accepted education system. These tiny handful of schools that do have Jewish-Arab students are often subjected to threats in Israel or even firebombed.
Trump may seem clownish, but his views are timid compared to the very real total separation that is normal in Israel and which is supported across the political spectrum from the radical right to the left. Members of Meretz, the ostensibly “real left” in Israel, have lived in communities that are “Jewish-only”. We are talking about segregation that would have been normal in the US Old South communities. Israel’s weirdo bizarre politics have allowed this to be labelled “left”, when the fact is that in no other western democracy would this level of segregation and normalcy be considered “left”.
The Le Pens of Israel
Marine Le Pen’s National Front romped home to a big chunk of the vote in France’s recent elections. In France she is considered radical right, eschewed by mainstream media and her victory is said to be a reflection of the fears in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Surely some in Israel feign horror over the rise of Le Pen. “Radical right,” they probably say. But where would she fit in, in Israel? She espouses French nationalism and “French values.” Let’s read an oped and ask if Le Pen said this:
* “The battle for Paris is almost lost. African (Muslim) students currently account for 39 percent of all the capital’s school children. Arab students currently account for 37 percent of the capital’s school children. French nationalists account for only 24 percent of the capital’s school children, and of those only half are secular. Demography has had its say…Paris’ future is a non-French nationalist one”
* “A million immigrants from Africa, a third of them non-Christian, some of whome were also found to have a degree of drugs and crime in their blood”
Those two quotes are not from a Le Pen speech. With only slight changes of the name of the city and the group being bashed, they are from the “left” wing newspaper Haaretz in Israel. These are considered “left” views in Israel, one is written by Ari Shavit, whose views are connected to those of Zionist Union, and the other by Gideon Levy, whose views are more radical “left”.
In Israel the views of Le Pen would fit her nicely into the national left in the country. In Israel the views of Arabs as a “demographic threat” are normal views across the “left”. People say openly “I want a Jewish state, not a binational state.” In France if Le Pen said “I want a Christian French white state, not a state for all its citizens”, that would be considered even far to the right of her normal statements.
Holding up a mirror to Israeli politics
Israeli politics is diverse and has its unique roots. Unlike America or France, Israel was not founded as a secular and universalist republic. It espoused always to be a home for the Jewish people. Its anthem and policies were always openly nationalist and ethnocratic. That doesn’t mean Israel is wrong. The Western concept of democracy has moved on from nation states, to a more diverse concept. Tony Judt called Israel an “anachronism,” a nationalist ethnic state in an age where the boundaries of the nation and state were being eroded.
But while there is nothing necessarily wrong with Israel wanting to be a nation state of the Jewish people, with rights for minority citizens, one should allow these right wing figures abroad to hold up a mirror to the everyday politics in Israel. When people express horror at the rise of Trump or Le Pen, they should question their own preconceived notions in Israel.
There is a slavish devotion among those who call themselves “left” in Israel, that their politics have anything in common with how the left has developed abroad. But the fact is their brand of “left” is today’s radical right. The concept of segregated education has no place abroad. The way in which politicians and media talk in Israel, about the Arab “demographic threat,” the very fact that opeds openly discuss there being “too many” Arab children is not only abhorrent, but has no parallel in mainstream politics outside of the country.
Le Pen and Trump are not crazy right wing politicians that Israel can cast aspersions on, they have commonalities in Israel that should be addressed. It’s easy to cast stones at those abroad, rather than look next door and ask challenging questions about basic assumptions of society.
Until the “left” in Israel will confront the segregated education and “demographic threat” concepts, and acceptance committees, it cannot but be defined as a radical right, competing against other right wingers. A true revolution in Israel would be if the right, which has the majority of voters, were to have politicians who would dare to fight against these systematic discriminations and demand that Israel be not only a state for the Jewish people, but also provide basic freedom of choice to its citizens. Choice over education, choice over where to live. And then, of course, to address the West Bank issue, not as a “demographic threat,” but as a question of civil rights for millions of Palestinian people living under military rule for 48 years.