Shabi’s Racist Stereotypes

Rachel Shabi’s latest CiF offering represents yet another effort to find evidence in support of preconceived conclusions – namely, the imminent demise of Israeli democracy.

As ‘evidence’ of Israel’s impending decent into totalitarianism, she utilizes all the hyperbole in her arsenal, providing “examples” free of even the most rudimentary context or perspective.

First, she cites the mysterious “disappearances” of Arab Israelis at the hands of the “secret police,” ignoring quite well-known facts – reported by Israel’s free, and quite feisty, media – concerning the men in question.  Amir Makhoul currently awaits trial on what appears to be quite credible charges of spying for the Iranian-backed terrorist group, Hizbollah, whilst Omar Saeed was sentenced to 7 months in prison after accepting a plea bargain.

Next, Shabi cites the case of MK Haneen Zouabi (Balad) who did indeed have some of her parliamentary privileges removed after taking part in the May 31st “Free Gaza” flotilla – sponsored by a group (IHH) with known terrorist affiliations. One wonders how British MPs or U.S. Senators would react to one of their colleagues travelling to Afghanistan to aid the Taliban in its campaign against NATO.  Would they make do with the partial removal of Parliamentary privileges? Perhaps more pertinently, how would the Lebanese or Syrian parliaments react to one of their members travelling abroad to help Israel?

Shabi then cites the case of Sabbar Kashur, sentenced to 18 months in prison for “rape by deception” under a law which may well be debatable, but is certainly not racist in its intentions, (despite Shabi’s attempts to paint it as such) having been previously applied to others of differing ethnic backgrounds.

Indeed, in 2008, the High Court of Justice set a precedent on “rape by deception”, rejecting an appeal of the rape conviction by Zvi Sleiman, who impersonated a senior official in the Housing Ministry whose wife worked in the National Insurance Institute (NII). Sleiman told women he would get them an apartment and increased NII payments if they would sleep with him.  High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said a conviction of rape should be imposed any time a “person does not tell the truth regarding critical matters to a reasonable woman, and as a result of misrepresentation she has sexual relations with him.”  Rubinstein said the question was also whether an ordinary person would expect such a woman to have sex with a man without the false identity he created.

Contrary to Shabi’s assertions that the case “reveals the extent to which Israelis consider Palestinians to be abhorrent”, such cases seem more likely to demonstrate that Israeli laws against rape to be more stringent than those in other democratic nations and thus – especially for those possessing a feminist perspective on the subject of male sexual coercion – represents a more progressive legal system.

Shabi then offers additional “evidence” of endemic Israeli racism, when she warns darkly of an Israeli “government campaign warn[ing]against hiring foreign workers”.  In fact, such public service announcements, which discourage the hiring of illegal workers,  is quite similar to campaigns that have been sponsored by the British Government for some time.  And, indeed, there is, of course, nothing exceptional about Israel’s dilemmas over the issue of illegal migrants; many other Western democratic countries are grappling with the same problem.  But, Shabi, naturally, reserves her opprobrium for Israel – who struggles to balance humanitarian needs with their own economic and social concerns –  fundamental rights of national sovereignty which are accorded to all nations.

Shabi proceeds to accuse Israel of possessing a ‘Eurocentric’ culture, which, she claims, has caused it to become “an increasingly insulting irritation to the region it has so arrogantly snubbed” – a charge utterly breathtaking in its ignorance to the history of Arab intransigence, boycotts, and military aggression.  (This absurd narrative was effectively demolished by Carmel Gould in a must-read article at Just Journalism.)

It is, of course, perfectly natural that Israel, conceived and born as a multi-party democracy – the only one in the region – should have greater ideological and cultural ties with democratic Europe than with its illiberal neighbours.  (Though its important to note that such a lack of political symmetry didn’t prevent Israel from signing peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan.)

It is curious that Shabi – arguing against Israel from a “progressive” perspective – wouldn’t at least acknowledge the fact that Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors are often based on very real moral differences.  There are aspects of the local political culture in the Middle East which Israelis rejects unequivocally – such as the reactionary treatment of women and homosexuals, or Arab court systems which often sentence convicts to torture (punishment including limbs amputated or eyes gouged out).  Also, capital punishment is routinely practiced in the Arab world, while, in sixty-two years of statehood, Israel has only carried out one death sentence – a distinction reserved for Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

In order to buttress her claim that the re-birth of the Jewish state was the source of the current Arab-Israeli conflict, Shabi invests considerable time and energy building up a history of Arab-Jewish friendship and co-existence.  But how far does this connect with reality? Certainly the members of my extended family who came to Israel from Morocco and Libya are far from being as nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ – possibly because, unlike her, they actually lived there and are not merely basing their opinions on anecdotal evidence.

Further, Shabi’s generalizations of the Ashkenazi/Mizrahi divide, which she seems so keen to perpetuate, have very little relevance in contemporary Israel. Intermarriage between citizens of different geographical backgrounds has led to ethnically (and racially) ‘mixed’ families being the norm in Israel today.  If my own children have little interest (and considerable difficulty) in defining themselves as Ashkenazi or Sephardi – finding the definition ‘Israeli’ to be more than satisfactory – their own children will move even further from such increasingly antiquated divisions.

Far from being the “sniffy neighbor of the Middle East”, Israel’s unique melting pot of cultures, traditions, beliefs and languages has resulted in a vibrant, pluralistic, multi-cultural society – a nation which represents, by far, the most liberal national enterprise in the region.

Shabi’s consistent and dramatic amplification of every Israeli flaw, real and imagined (to impute racism to the very essence of Zionism) is indicative of the consistent journalistic myopia displayed by the “progressive” Guardians at ‘Comment is Free’ when it comes to Israel – a political malady which French writer Pascal Bruckner would aptly term the “racism of the anti-racists.”

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