Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Public Admission of Shame

I'm ashamed and I need to proclaim it publicly. I can't keep it to myself. That would shame me even more.

A sizable section of my people have embraced ethnic bigotry as a legitimate political expression. Intolerant racism has become a widely acceptable and recognized manifestation of being a Jewish Israeli.

Wait a minute……..I didn't mean ALL Jewish Israelis, but only many-many-many. But some time ago I thought we just had a very large fringe element of bigots………some time ago…..no longer. I need to accept the fact that today I am the fringe element and they are right smack in the center of our Jewish Israeli environment.

A while back, the chief rabbi of Tzfat (Safed) pronounced his religious edict forbidding the rental of apartments and homes to Arabs……to Israeli Arab citizens, of course. I thought of him as a racist fringe element within our rabbinical community. I assumed that even our clearly fundamentalist religious establishment would halt before stepping over that red line of outward public intolerance of our Arab citizens. I was naively wrong. Recently a group of forty rabbis, followed by a couple of hundred more rabbis, signed a similar religious edict forbidding the rental of homes and apartments to our Israeli Arab citizens. No, these are not a group of extremist "settler" rabbis from our illegal settlements in the conquered territories of the Palestinian West Bank. So many of them are from towns and cities throughout our country, within our green border.

Nahariya is the large neighboring town where I do a good bit of my shopping .The chief rabbi of Nahariya, salaried by the government with my taxes, is a signatory to the racist edict. One of my sons and his family live in the larger town of Pardes-Chana-Karkur. Last week (and the week before) he and his family were part of a small group demonstrating in front of the home of the chief rabbi of that town. He too had signed the racist edict. His salary is also paid for by our taxes. These rabbis, along with so many other rabbinical signatories, are mainstream rabbis within mainstream Israel.

In Bat-Yam, a large city bordering Tel-Aviv, there were large anti-Arab public demonstrations. (foreign migrants and asylum seekers were of course clumped together with Israeli Arabs in one solid package of intolerance.) The chief rabbi of Bat-Yam….you guessed it…. Had also been a signatory to the anti-Arab edict. Phrases both spoken (furiously yelled, actually) and on posters started from the "mild" ones admonishing "NO RENTALS TO ARABS", upgraded themselves to "KEEP AWAY FROM OUR WOMEN", and ended up with the now familiar reverberating chants of "KILL THE ARABS". Any such demonstration by Arabs would no doubt land a few loud voices in Jail for incitement. But we Jews are immune………probably because God, through the voices of so many of our rabbis, is on our side.

Yes, there were also rabbis who spoke against the discriminatory edict. Some refuted the attempt at basing the edict on our religious Jewish Halacha. But most were concerned that such pronouncements would not look good to the "Goyim" and would cause "Tzoress" (troubles) for Jews living in the diaspora. Perhaps I had hoped for a clear rabbinical response saying that such an edict is simply immoral-discriminatory-bigoted-undemocratic and unworthy of rabbis belonging to a people who had suffered much at the hands of such edicts. No such luck…….at best we received arguments regarding the interpretation of our Jewish Halacha (O.K., O.K., there were one or two exceptions!...nuu…..so what…..).

So I'm ashamed…….and also angry and revolted and frustrated and sad…..but, unfortunately, not too surprised. I've stopped counting or remembering the variety of passed and planned laws aimed at discriminating our Arab citizens……Laws brought up by members of our Knesset, and more importantly, by members of our government. I don't know why we should be surprised when crowds in our mainstream communities reflect our government's approach to minority rights and equality. Actually, our government seems to be a fairly accurate reflection of Main Street, Israel.

O.K., I'm not only concerned with bigotry and discrimination for their own sake. Nor am I worried only about how such behavior will eventually weaken our ability to stand up to the multiple dangers surrounding us while also crippling whatever remains of Western support for our security. Along with those concerns I'm also saddened at witnessing how our behavior is strangling the moral and ethical backbone of our Jewishness. I'm saddened at our inability to learn how to stay strong and secure in our own land without losing our ability to be a moral example to the world, a "light unto the nations", as both our ancient and modern prophets have expected of us. We are losing it……..losing it……….

Hold it! Can it be that a large vocal minority is simply drowning out a dissenting but more silent majority ?? That's what many people tell me. If so, things may not be as frustrating as they seem, and there is still work to be done……..mainly:
Even whisperrrrr…..
Just don't be silent !!
Don't hold it in your belly…..
Don't wait for someone else….

If you are ashamed, don't tell it to yourself, to your armchair in the parlor.
Tell it to many other people. Outside. And tell them why.

I'm ashamed, and I'm telling you about it.

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