The Israeli housing minister wants segregated townships for Arabs and Jews
Living apart together Jerry Kindred, Guardian 16 July 2009
The Israeli housing minister wants segregated townships for Arabs and Jews. What will he do with my mixed family?
Ariel Atias is Israel’s minister of construction and housing. Speaking at the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv recently, he said that Jews and Arabs shouldn’t live in the same towns. He pointed to last year’s Jewish-Arab riots in Akko as proof that we just don’t get along. Atias said he intends to formulate and implement housing policies that create and perpetuate separate townships for Jews and Arabs.
The new government policy poses a problem for me (Jewish) and my wife (Arab). Renting a second apartment in a different town would be way beyond our budget. I suppose I could sleep on the couch in the living room, but that probably wouldn’t satisfy the honourable minister. Even worse, I just don’t see how our children are going to avoid the Jewish-Arab co-existence running rampant in their DNA.
Atias is a member of the Shas party, which is led by ultra-orthodox Sephardi Jews. The party is also supported by Sephardi voters who, though mostly less religious than their leadership, remain deeply attached to traditional Jewish observances. For too many, that includes both lighting candles on Friday night and screaming “Death to the Arabs!” at soccer games. Nonetheless, Shas is generally considered to be a less racist party than its coalition partners Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), which wants to strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship, and HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home), which sees Arabs as the Enemies of the Creator of the Universe.
To be fair, Atias is an equal-opportunity segregationist. He also wants to build separate neighbourhoods for Jews (ultra-orthodox) and Jews (secular), whose lifestyles he sees as basically incompatible. Since the ultra-orthodox tend to get married around 19 or 20 and have seven or eight kids per family, they’re always in search of new living space. Therefore, Atias wants to build lots of new housing for the ultra-orthodox in a town called Harish in the north of Israel. (“Harish” means “ploughing” in Hebrew, which may be a tribute to the prodigious reproductive achievements that are driving plans for its expansion.)
I admit I see the appeal. Galilee is the most verdant, temperate and (I think) beautiful part of Israel. Many Israelis would move to Galilee tomorrow if they could find good jobs up north; but the problem is, there aren’t many. However, a restricted job market is not a problem for the ultra-orthodox, who don’t need to find good jobs, or any jobs, because most of them live off of government subsidies. The ultra-orthodox political parties basically exist to suck money out of the treasury and impose Jewish religious law on the rest of us, which is why mixed couples have to get married in Cyprus or Bohemia or some other foreign locale. But I digress.
The problem, as our earnest housing minister sees it, is that there are lots of Arabs in Galilee, and they have kids too. In fact, they’re taking over! Israel is in danger of losing Galilee to the Arabs. But never fear, the ultra-orthodox are here. If the state curtails the expansion of Arab towns and founds new Jewish municipalities in the undeveloped space between them, voilà! We have once again conquered Israel for the Jews.
I confess I did not expect this sort of thing when I arrived in Israel. As a Jewish child growing up in America, I was taught that Judaism was all about wisdom and justice, and so it seemed to be. Who could deny or ignore the astounding contributions of American Jews in science, the arts and civil rights? And a Jewish state would have to be more of the same, wouldn’t it?
Well, no, judging by the results of the most recent Israeli elections. Our housing minister is a racist religious fanatic who just openly announced a policy of ethnic segregation, but not too many people seem to be bothered. Where are the demonstrations? Where is the political opposition? Where are the agitated conversations among concerned citizens who simply can’t believe that such a thing could happen, here?
Nowhere. There’s nothing. At this point, the awful doesn’t shock anymore. We’ve seen too much of it. On the contrary, what people find shocking, what they can’t get over, is the idea that our common humanity is more important than tribal alliances. Back in the US, my friends’ marriages were a multi-culti smorgasbord: Tarheels marrying Mexicans, Lutherans marrying Chinese, Jews marrying everybody. Even if some Jewish parents objected to marrying out of the fold, the government didn’t get involved. But here, performing a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew is a crime against the state. So of course our venerable leaders don’t want us living together. Who knows where friendship might lead?
Jerry Kindred is a pen name. The author lives in Israel and wishes to remain anonymous