In Israel, racism is standard procedure

From time to time, the Palestine Center distributes articles it believes
will enhance understanding of the Palestinian political reality. The
article by Lauren Marcus was published by Mondoweiss on 11 May 2015.

“In Israel, racism is standard procedure

“Identification cards, please,” said the woman at the entrance. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as soon as I heard the words. I passed the woman my card. She looked over it without a second thought and my female friend was given the same treatment. We were quickly waved through to enter the party. As soon as she saw our male friend’s ID, she clucked and shook her head slightly. I knew exactly what had happened; she saw his city of residence and his name, both of which are distinctly Arab. She raised her hand in a “Stop” gesture and the security guards made sure that the three Arab men in our group stayed on the other side of the barrier, as the harsh May sun beat down from above.

We came to Rishon LeTzion for a daytime pool party featuring a DJ from the Netherlands. We arrived early, and as we approached the entrance I was happy to see that there wasn’t a line of people waiting to come in. The parking lot outside the event was relatively empty as well; by every measure, the party was just beginning and certainly wasn’t crowded yet. All seemed to be going smoothly until our friends’ Arab ethnicity was established by their identification cards. “Why aren’t you letting our friends in?” I asked. The stony-faced security guards remained silent, and the woman at the door rolled her eyes. “They must wait,” she said. When I asked what exactly we were waiting for, she refused to answer. Several minutes passed. One of the security guards pointed at my female friend and me and said, “You two are fine to go in. You’re not the problem here.” We refused to enter without our other friends and waited for them to be admitted. Meanwhile, several visibly intoxicated Jews were allowed to enter easily, save for the occasional pat-down by security, while my friends continued to stand in the sweltering heat.

After twenty minutes, we decided to leave. My female friend and I crossed back to the other side of the security barrier. I shook my head and complained loudly about the absurdity of the situation. A Jewish woman walking by saw the commotion, and asked me why we hadn’t gone in.

“My friends are Arabs, so they don’t want to let us in,” I explained to her.

“Where are they from?” she asked.

“Taybeh,” I answered.

“Oh, that’s why,” she said, as though the fact they were from a particular city was a logical reason to deny them entry. We parted ways wordlessly, as she headed into the party.

Jews and Arabs don’t really mix much in Israel. They attend separate schools from pre-kindergarten age (there are only 5 integrated state schools in the country where Arab and Jewish pupils learn together.) They live in separate cities and towns, with a few exceptions like Haifa and Lod; and even in these mixed municipalities, they tend to live in their ethnically defined neighborhoods. Organizations like Yad L’Achim and Lehava, which receive funding and the tacit approval of the Israeli government, exist in order to combat fraternization between the groups, especially between Jewish women and Arab men. There is no civil marriage option in Israel, which essentially places Jewish-Arab relationships permanently in the realm of the illegitimate. Coming from an environment like this, it’s no surprise that my Arab friends would be excluded from a public party based solely on their ethnicity.

This incident is hardly the most egregious example of racism in Israel, but I feel compelled to share this story for a specific reason. It illustrates an ugly aspect of Israeli culture, in which discrimination based on ethnicity is standard procedure. Perhaps people from abroad might find this story outrageous, but the majority of Israelis would hardly be shocked because this type of discrimination is widely practiced. In a country in which interaction between Arabs and Jews is minimal at best and discouraged at worst, one would hope that an event like this, while obviously not the most serious arena to foster trust between the groups, could at least serve as a neutral space where everyone is able to enjoy music and dancing. Unfortunately, this incident reinforces the truth; in Israel, racism permeates nearly every situation in day-to-day life.  Although there is little chance that writing about this will change anything, I still want to make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable, and driving citizens of this country even further apart.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.

Click here for more Reports and Commentary