Ok, so before a bunch of neo-Nazi trolls get excited, I need to define a few things. First off, every country and most cultures have some similar manifestation. Whether it’s the alt-right in America, the Front National in France, even Buddhists. If you think your country is immune- you’re wrong. It’s a global phenomenon.
Secondly, there are varying degrees of this philosophy. Not all Israeli Jews agree with this approach. And certainly not all Jews elsewhere.
In this post, I’m going to discuss both what is Jewish Supremacy and how it ultimately hurts both Jews and non-Jews. And how it operates in ways you may not expect.
Let’s start with an anecdote. Lately, I have been advocating for African refugees in my neighborhood. The Israeli government, in the name of “national security” has decided to deport them- likely to their deaths or torture. These are people who already live and work in Israel, who largely speak Hebrew, whose children ask them if there will be hummus and bamba in Rwanda. That’s where they’re likely to be deported.
Not a single one has committed an act of terror. And I can tell you from living in my neighborhood, the economy depends on them and takes advantage of them. Which is why the Israeli government is negotiating with the Philippines to send more low-wage workers to replace the Africans already here. And issuing more permits to Palestinian workers.
The Israeli government, then, is willing to deport these people who it views as economically beneficial. Why? Jewish supremacy and racism.
Let’s actually start with racism. Some of my friends or blog commenters have been hesitant to use this word. I get it- when you’re a persecuted minority (as Jews have been for thousands of years)- it’s hard to admit when our compatriots are being racist. So many anti-Semites will rejoice at our introspection and it’ll make us feel protective and vulnerable.
And yet it’s the truth. I’ve met people here who’ve called African torture and genocide survivors “infiltrators”, “fake refugees”, “rapists”, “criminals”, “n*ggers”, and worse. Who’ve said: “if I wanted to live in Africa, I’d go move there.” I heard an out-of-the-closet lesbian say the Africans need to be “cleaned up” and deported. Lest you think it’s only poor Mizrachim who feel this way, I’ve met Ashkenazi Reform Jews who also “aren’t sure” about letting them stay. As they munch on cheese in North Tel Aviv.
Even among some of the people who oppose the deportation, the racism is palpable. To quote Haim Moshe from South Tel Aviv: “If they all walk away, it will be bad for the economy because they take all the jobs no one wants. There are a lot of non-Jewish people living and working here, but when the Sudanese and Eritreans came it was like an invasion because they live together and are black.”
Save their lives to protect my pocketbook. But damn, they sure are black.
It’s telling that the government isn’t stepping up enforcement of the thousands of Romanian or Ukrainian or Filipino workers. Just the really black ones.
So now that we’ve defined the racist aspect, let’s move on to the stickier topic: Jewish supremacism. One commenter on my last blog suggested deporting African refugees isn’t racist because Israel “absorbed” Ethiopian Jewish immigrants. The first issue is that actually a lot of Ethiopian Jews here do experience racism. In words perhaps even I would struggle to say, Ethiopian-Israeli actress Tahunia Rubel said: “Israel is one of the most racist countries in the world.” And fellow community-member Revital Iyov: “Some people say that in other countries the situation is much worse, so we shouldn’t criticize Israel but only praise it because we’re better than the non-Jews.”
After having established that in fact there is a lot racism towards Ethiopian-Israelis, let’s go a step further. The commenter does have a point. Why is it that an Ethiopian Jew- also black, from a country bordering Eritrea (in fact Eritrea used to be part of Ethiopia)- is allowed to legally immigrate to Israel. Whereas an Eritrean refugee, sometimes even speaking the same Tigre language as some Ethiopian Jews, is about to be deported. Why?
Because the Eritreans are not Jews, and the Ethiopians are. This may not be racism. It is Jewish supremacy. For the simple fact that these Ethiopians are identified as Jews, they are given a passport, Hebrew lessons, healthcare, job training- all the benefits I had. It should of course be noted the Ethiopian Jews had a particularly tumultuous journey to Israel that was substantially more dangerous than someone coming from America like me. But the contrast between how they can legally enter the country versus the deportation of their non-Jewish Eritrean neighbors stands. The Jews get to stay. The non-Jews must go. Demographic threat.
This principle of course can be applied to both Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel. There’s even an online database of over 65 laws that explicitly or implicitly discriminate against Arabs, including in land use, language, due process, religion, and politics. If you have the courage, here it is. I’ll have to save that for another day because I’m gonna need a lot of foot massages or punching bags to let out the stress after reading it.
To be a Jew in Israel is a privilege. In the good sense, it gives our people a home when the world has turned its back on us for generations. As we suffered and were expelled. Much like the refugees living in my neighborhood now. Or the Palestinians who used to live here before the establishment of the state.
Which is why it’s complicated. Because when you establish a new nation state, it often displaces the people not considered a part of it. The thing many Jews like about Israel- that it’s a “Jewish home”- is the very thing that hurts the people not considered Jewish.
“Not considered” Jewish because this even hurts Jews who don’t fit the society’s definition of Judaism. Whether it’s a woman who converts with a Reform rabbi (which is not recognized by the state), whether it’s a French Jew who continues to speak French (instead of becoming a “real” Israeli who speaks Hebrew), whether it’s the Orthodox Jew who arrived with peyos (and whose kibbutz subsequently cut them off)- if you go outside the norm here, there are consequences. For everyone. This is how the state operates. And it’s not entirely unique to Israel. Think about how minorities, how “deviants” are treated in your country.
Put it this way- as a Reform Jew I have more civil rights in the U.S. than in Israel. A pretty astonishing fact for a supposedly Jewish State.
Because in the end, when you build a state, you always exclude someone. You may say it’s worthwhile, I’m not so sure.
And when you exclude someone, you put someone on top. Privilege isn’t neutral.
In Israel, who’s on top? Jews. And specifically, the more “Israeli” or “sabra” a Jew is, the more privilege she has. European (but not too Jewish-looking), physically fit, masculine, a loyal soldier, blunt, and aggressive. Imitating Arabs but never being one. This doesn’t describe all Israelis, but it does describe many of their ideals. The darker you are, the more Diasporic you are, the more pacifist or effeminate you are- the more push back you’ll get.
In short, the Israeli ideal is not just different from the Judaism I grew up with in America- it’s the opposite. It despises my Judaism. My compassion for the other. My social justice. My love for diversity and all cultures, religions, and language. It despises my interest in Hasidim as much as it despises my empathy for Palestinian refugees.
Which is why it despises my solidarity with African refugees. Because I’m crossing three lines. One, I’m helping people who are dark-skinned, vulnerable, and foreign. Two, I’m helping people who are not Jewish “infiltrate” our land. And three, I’m doing this in the name of my progressive American Jewish values.
Three strikes and you’re out.
Sometimes it can be scary to see the bigger picture. If you’re new to my blog, I encourage you to read my other posts. I’m not a troll and I’m a lifelong Jew who speaks fluent Hebrew. I’m not here on a program, I immigrated to Israel. I live in Tel Aviv and have traveled every corner of this land and met every community. I’ve been involved at every level of Jewish life abroad and in Israel. Accepting this difficult reality helps me realize my role in the process, uncomfortable as this might be. It can help me figure out ways to make things better.
Other than the refugees themselves, the people who’ve inspired me the most the past few weeks have been Holocaust survivors. Dozens of them are speaking out in favor of the refugees and offering up their homes to protect them. An Israeli survivor, Veronica Cohen, said: “This Holocaust survivor remembers what it means to be a Jew, and remembers what it means to be an asylum-seeker. Tell me, how is it possible for Jews to forget their past and join in this crime?”
Exactly. Because a real Jew knows his history and remembers her oppression. Because a real Jew doesn’t put himself above non-Jews. Because a real Jew strives to accept and learn from all different races and cultures.
The reason I often don’t feel Israeli is because I feel Jewish.