Racism rampant in Israeli society

January 16, 2011
Richard Kuper


Never again? Elderly Palestinian women called “whores” on Yad Vashem tour, while racism explodes across Israel (Updated)

Max Blumenthal, 30 December 2010

Update: A cross-posting of this piece at Mondoweiss of triggered a few extremely insightful comments. I have posted three of them below; they are worth reading. And The Hasbara Buster has alerted me to another disturbing incident of Israeli racism, this time against five Arab renters who were driven from their apartment in Tel Aviv — one of them had served in the IDF. Read about it here.

This week, a group of elderly Palestinian women were escorted to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance museum to learn about the Jewish genocide in Europe. At the entrance of the museum, they were surrounded by a group of Jewish Israeli youth who recognized them as Arabs. “Sharmouta!” the young Israelis shouted at them again and again, using the Arabic slang term for whores, or sluts.

The Palestinians had been invited to attend a tour arranged by the Israeli Bereaved Families Forum, an organization founded by an Israeli whose son was killed in combat by Palestinians. They were joined by a group of Jewish Israeli women who, like them, had lost family members to violence related to the conflict. Presumably, both parties went on the tour in good faith, hoping to gain insight into the suffering of women on the other side of the conflict.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian members (who unlike the Israelis live under occupation and almost certainly had to obtain special permits just to go to Yad Vashem) learned an unusual lesson of the Holocaust: A society that places the Holocaust at the center of its historical narrative — that stops traffic for two minutes each year on the national holiday known as Yom Ha’Shoah — could also raise up a generation of little fascists goose-stepping into the future full of irrational hatred.

“In Palestinian culture, older women are most honored and they could not believe their ears,” said Sami Abu Awwad, a Palestinian coordinator of the tour. “We never talk like this to older women. The Palestinians, who were all grandmothers, were very shocked and offended.”

The report on this outburst of Jewish Israeli racism comes from the Israeli news website Walla! For some reason, I could not find reporting on it anywhere in English.

Perhaps the story was lost in the flood of reports about the anti-Arab racism that poured through the streets of Israel this week. Besides the publication of a series of rabbinical letters forbidding renting to Arabs and condemning relationships between Jews and Arabs, a school principal in Jaffa prohibited Palestinian-Israeli students from speaking Arabic to one another. In Bat Yam, a mostly Russian suburb just south of Jaffa, Jewish residents demonstrated against the presence their Arab neighbors. “Any Jewish woman who goes with an Arab should be killed; any Jew who sells his home to an Arab should be killed,” one protester reportedly shouted. And in Tel Aviv, locals rallied for the expulsion of foreign workers.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

On Saturday, three teenage girls born to African migrant parents were attacked and severely beaten by a mob of teenagers while walking to their homes in the Hatikva neighborhood.

That same night, someone tried to torch an apartment in Ashdod housing seven Sudanese citizens. The assailants set a blazing tire outside the front door of the apartment, and five of the seven residents were lightly hurt by smoke inhalation before they managed to break the burglar bars and flee through a window.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a gang of Jewish youths was arrested after staging several random attacks on young Palestinian men with weapons including tear gas, which would be hard to acquire from anywhere except the army. Ynet reported:

The gang of teens was allegedly headed by a 14-year-old boy, and used a girl their age to seduce Arab youths.

The girl would then lead the young men to a meeting point in the city’s Independence Park, where they were allegedly brutally attacked by the teens with stones, glass bottles and tear gas. Police suspect the girl took part in three of the assaults.

Daniel Bar-Tal, a renowned Israeli political psychologist who has conducted some of the most comprehensive surveys of Israeli attitudes since Operation Cast Lead, found that the racist, authoritarian trends that are increasingly pronounced in Israeli society are products of a “psycho-social infrastructure” dedicated to promoting “a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering.”

This infrastructure is comprised of institutions like the Zionist education system, the Israeli Defense Forces, and even Yad Vashem, which explicitly links the Palestinian national struggle to Nazism.

Indeed, the only image of a Palestinian in all of Yad Vashem (at least that I am aware of) is of the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, who was forced by the British to flee to Germany, where he became a (not very successful) Nazi collaborator. In recent years, the Mufti has become a key fixture of Israeli propaganda efforts against the Palestinians. As such, a photo is featured prominently on a wall in Yad Vashem depicting him sig heiling a group of Nazi troops. However, there is no mention anywhere in Yad Vashem of the 9000 Palestinian Arabs the British recruited to fight the Nazis, or of the 233,000 North African volunteers who fought and died while battling the Nazis in the French Liberation Army (and whose heroic efforts were dramatized in the excellent film, “Days of Glory”).

According to Peter Novick, the author of “The Holocaust in American Life,” though the Mufti played no significant part in the Holocaust, he plays a “starring role” in Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. “The article on the Mufti is more than twice as long as the articles on Goebbels and Goring, longer than the articles on Himmler and Heydrich combined, longer than the article on Eichmann — of all the biographical articles, it is exceeded in length, but only slightly, by the entry for Hitler.” [Novick, p. 158]

Not only has Yad Vashem attempted through propagandistic means to link the Palestinian struggle to Nazism, it has promoted an exclusivist view of the Holocaust. In April 2009, Yad Vashem fired a docent, Itamar Shapira, because he had discussed the massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin with a group of students from the settlement of Efrat. “All I was trying to say is that there were people who lived here before the Holocaust survivors arrived, that they suffered a terrible trauma too, and that we shouldn’t hide the facts,” Shapira told me a month after his firing. “Yad Vashem carefully selected what facts it wanted to present, but deliberately avoided things like Deir Yassin, even though its ruins were just a thousand meters from the museum.”

Iris Rosenberg, a Yad Vashem administrator who was involved in Shapira’s firing, said of the verbal assault against Palestinian women at the museum this week: “Despite the regrettable incident at the entrance to the museum, the team’s visit to the Holocaust History Museum was conducted in a dignified manner which was significant and important.”

Tamara Rabinovitch, the Israeli leader of the Bereaved Families tour, told Walla! that her Palestinian counterparts “were very excited by the visit. Some of them approached me and told me they heard details of the Holocaust but did not know how painful it was. In two weeks we plan to visit an abandoned Arab village so that the Palestinian narrative is represented.”


Three important comments on my piece posted at Mondoweiss. They are reproduced here:

David Samel December 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm

The Mufti was clearly a Nazi sympathizer, but the difficulty for hasbarists has been how to lay blame on the entire Palestinian people for the Mufti’s actions. After all, the subtext is that since “the Palestinians” sided with the Nazis in WWII, their expulsion a few years later was well-deserved.

One of the leading proponents of this view is Alan Dershowitz. He has repeatedly argued that Palestinians can be blamed for the Mufti’s actions (which, though they were bad enough, he has shamelessly exaggerated to be much worse) because the Mufti was their national leader. Aside from the fallacy of holding an entire population responsible and even punishing them for their leader’s actions (how would we Americans fare under that standard?), Dersh’s reasoning was based not only an Edward Said quote taken wildly out of context but one that Dersh had deliberately changed in subtle but meaningful ways. Several years ago, I sent Dersh the following email:

Recently, I read your article published in frontpagemagazine regarding Ahmadinejad’s lie about the Palestinians not being responsible for the Holocaust. . .

Your article then proceeds to review the close relationship between the Mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and the Nazis during the War. While I did not check your sources, I had no difficulty believing that al-Husseini was indeed a Nazi sympathizer who hated Jews. However, your article suggested that the Palestinian people were collectively responsible for the Mufti’s pro-Nazi actions. For this proposition, you relied on a quote from Professor Edward Said, who, according to you, acknowledged:

“Hajj Amin al-Husseini represented the Palestinian Arab national consensus, had the backing of the Palestinian political parties that functioned in Palestine, and was recognized in some form by Arab governments as the voice of the Palestinian people.”

I found this sentence to be quite significant. Did Said, of all people, acknowledge that Palestinians shared al-Husseini’s affinity for Nazism and even mass murder of Jews? This was most unexpected. . . I discovered that you used the same quote in The Case For Israel, with an endnote citing p. 248 of Blaming the Victims, a book edited by Hitchens and Said. . . When I turned to p. 248, I was somewhat shocked. The quote was clearly taken out of context, as the passage did not remotely suggest any Palestinian national consensus in favor of the Holocaust or mass murder of Jews. But even worse, it was an erroneous quotation. The actual quote is as follows:

“This committee [the Arab Higher Committee], chaired by Palestine’s national leader, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, represented the Palestinian Arab national consensus, had the backing of the Palestinian political parties that functioned in Palestine, and was recognized in some form by Arab governments as the voice of the Palestinian people.”

This passage, appearing in an article co-authored by Said, clearly presented the Arab Higher Committee as the subject of the sentence, not al-Husseini himself. I cannot imagine how this error could be inadvertent. You even removed the comma after Husseini’s name so as not to have the reader question its presence, which would have correctly implied that something had preceded it. Did you really deliberately distort the quote? I don’t know if you rationalize this by thinking that you captured the spirit of the passage, but I would not agree. It appears that you were unwilling to provide an accurate quote and trust your readers with the truth. Moreover, you use the quote to imply a Palestinian consensus in support of the Holocaust mass murder of Jews, something that clearly is not in the original. The article states that the Committee was popular after the war, not that the Mufti’s Nazi leanings were popular during the Holocaust.

Dersh answered: “Who are you. Identify yourself,” but offered no substantive answer. I did not respond. Of course, he has continued to spout this line since then, smearing the entire Palestinian people as Nazi sympathizers who cheered on the Holocaust and would have been enthusiastic participants if only they had gotten the chance.

Peter Novick’s statistics regarding the relative lengths of articles on the Mufti and Nazi leaders in the Yad Vashem Encyclopedia shows how thoroughly entrenched this line of reasoning is. The creation of a Jewish State on Palestinian land is quite often justified by the Holocaust, and the obvious answer that the Palestinians were not the perpetrators has generated this mendacious effort to smear them.


…This understanding was memorialized in the Alexandria Protocol of October 7, 1944, where they included a section called “Special Resolution Concerning Palestine.” This document is at Yale. It reads:

Special Resolution Concerning Palestine

A. The Committee is of the opinion that Palestine constitutes an important part of the Arab World and that the rights of the Arabs in Palestine cannot be touched without prejudice to peace and stability in the Arab World.

The Committee also is of the opinion that the pledges binding the British Government and providing for the cessation of Jewish immigration, the preservation of Arab lands, and the achievement of independence for Palestine are permanent Arab rights whose prompt implementation would constitute a step toward the desired goal and toward the stabilization of peace and security.

The Committee declares its support of the cause of the Arabs of Palestine and its willingness to work for the achievement of their legitimate aims and the safeguarding of their Just rights.

The Committee also declares that it is second to none in regretting the woes which have been inflicted upon the Jews of Europe by European dictatorial states. But the question of these Jews should not be confused with Zionism, for there can be no greater injustice and aggression than solving the problem of the Jews of Europe by another injustice, i.e., by inflicting injustice on the Arabs of Palestine of various religions and denominations.

B. The special proposal concerning the participation Of the Arab Governments and peoples in the “Arab National Fund” to safeguard the lands of the Arabs of Palestine shall be referred to the committee of financial and economic affairs to examine it from all its angles and to submit the result of that examination to the Preliminary Committee in its next meeting.

In faith of which this protocol has been signed at Faruq I University at Alexandria on Saturday, Shawwal 20, 1363 (October 7,1944).

(1) Translation of the official communique of the Pan-Arab Preliminary Conference made by the American Legation, Cairo; and collated with the Arabic text published in al-Ahram (Cairo), Oct. 8,1944, p. 3.


Jeffrey Blankfort December 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Despite having grown up during WW2 and having taken the news of what the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe almost personally–it was years before I was able to have a civil conversation with a German–I never transferred those feelings into affection for Israel.

This was because my parents, neither of whom were, fortunately, zionists, were, however, involved in Jewish community activities, and as a consequence, we had a number of Israeli Jews visiting our home in the first five or six years following Israel’s establishment.

All had left Israel, as I recall, for the same reason, the unvarnished racism displayed by their fellow Israeli Jews towards the 150,000 Palestinian Arabs who had remained following the Nakba. The stories they told were how, whenever there was an attack on Israelis by Palestinian fedayeen who had been robbed of their land, Israeli Jews who lived near the Palestinians, took it out on them, committing what our Israeli visitors described as “pogroms.” These Israeli Jews had no desire to live in a racist country.

In the mid-60s traveling in Europe I had the same experience, meeting Israeli Jews who also had left for the same reasons and it was, in fact, years before I met an Israeli Jew who had anything positive to say about the country. At that time I had not yet been to the Middle East and wasn’t giving the Palestinian issue much thought but I found their comments worth noting.

In 1983, I spent two and a half months in Israel and interviewed Israeli soldiers who had opposed the Lebanese war, now, except for the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, largely forgotten by everyone in the West, including, inexplicably, the Palestinian solidarity movement, and I did take the time to visit Yad Vashem one morning, although I admit I did not pay much attention to what it had to say about the Mufti.

In the afternoon of the same day I made a trip to a Palestinian hospital in the hills of East Jerusalem, having been advised to do so by a young woman from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the West Bank.

There I found a half dozen Palestinian children who had been victims of a different luftwaffe, this one piloted over Lebanon by Israeli Jews in F-15s provided by the US Congress. The six children had a total of two legs and all were being fitted for prostheses.

When they were assembled together for a group photo, they were all smiling. It was all I could do to keep from crying. What I was seeing was a continuation of what I had seen at Yad Vashem.

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