By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On April 5 a radio station in Israel claimed that some hospitals in Israel were segregating Jewish and Arab mothers in the maternity ward by placing them in separate rooms (not separate wards). It was a revelation of what was already widely known. Everyone who has given birth in a Jerusalem hospital knows that, like the university dorms, Jews have Jewish roommates and Arabs have Arab roommates.
Very quickly the initial report and any debate about it was shut down by the decision of media to focus on the comments of one Israeli far-right politician who said the segregation was understandable and then made offensive comments supporting it. His comments were offensive and symbolic of a milieu of anti-Arab racism. But the way the media latched onto the narrative “Israeli lawmaker: segregate Arabs and Jews in hospital”, or “lawmaker under fire over Jewish-Arab segregation” illustrates how the media and national narrative prefers to find one racist scapegoat so as to avoid holding up a mirror to the larger racist system.
I asked on Twitter: “What if society needs a few ‘racist’ scapegoats to protect the system of racism.” What if the discovery of the “racist Israeli lawmaker” was a way to sacrifice him in order to not have to look more deeply at racism. Why are Jews and Arabs segregated? Because by the time they get to the hospital they have lived their whole lives almost entirely segregated. The system of education, of acceptance committees, community planning, army, dorms, all create separation. So the hospital became a momentary symbol and to protect the overall system the grossly offensive comments of one lawmaker became the focus. The debate became over whether you support or disagree with this one lawmaker, not about the hospitals.
Mk Yair Lapid symbolizes this distraction in his claim that “advocating for separation of Jewish and Arab mothers similar to Germany in 1930s.” Notice, he attacked “advocating”, not the situation itself. Because the system already has massive segregation.
Remember Birmingham’s Bull Connor, the racist politician who symbolized segregation and the conflict over civil rights in the 1960s. In 1962 he ordered the closing of public parks rather than de-segregate them. His puggish face was the symbol of racism. But he was not really the problem.
Connor represented an entire system. P.W Botha was not really the “problem” with South Africa, the system was the problem. The system produced Connor or Botha or any number of people who might have come to symbolize racism.
In reality the racists like Connor should be the last people to fall in an attempt to root out oppression. Only when the swamp is drained, the laws changed, the people’s views changed, integration accomplished, then the Connors have to be broken down, as the last vestige of the system. If Connor had just resigned in 1961, would segregation have changed? No.
In every example where there is a problem in society, whether it is an anti-semitic professor at an American university, or an ISIS member from the UK, focusing on the person can be a distraction. Sometimes by arresting one person or singling out one person, society can learn from their rise and fall. Other times removing them or making the issue about them is actually a carefully crafted way to distract. How do racists emerge? They emerge from a community. Supporters of segregation don’t just suddenly wake up one morning. Their views are accepted among their friends and colleagues. The anti-semitic professor at Oberlin who claimed the Rothschilds created AIDs posted that claim to her Facebook page which included numerous students and faculty, and none of them objected. They had already mainstreamed anti-semitism. They made it possible for her to emerge.
If you want to change the system of segregation or racism, you have to go for the roots and drain the swamp it comes from, not just cut off one little twig. The distraction forces want people to focus on one tree, and not the forest. They are willing to sacrifice a few racists here and there, so that the massive system underpinning it will not be critiqued.