This astonishing video of an incident that occurred on
an Israir airlines flight from Tel Aviv to the seaside resort of Varna,
Bulgaria, last weekend has become a social media sensation among Israelis.
Although all involved in the incident are apparently
Israeli Jews, it is nonetheless very revealing and symptomatic of endemic
This is a transcript of the video from
Israel’s Walla! News, translated by Israel expert Dena
Shunra. Be warned, it contains very foul language:
Passenger A: You’re gonna
sell me chocolate, do you understand that? You work for me, I paid money for
Flight attendant: I don’t work
for you. You wish I’d be working for you.
Passenger A: I want the
chocolate. What reason do you have not to sell me the chocolate? I want the
chocolate. What is this? I want the chocolate.
Flight attendant: If you think
that if you’ll raise your voice and be a little more violent – then you’ll
probably not get what you want.
Passenger B (A’s sister,
shouting from the other side of the plane): Sell her the chocolate, what is
she, an Arab? Kuss rabak [Arabic expletive], sell chocolate! Do you
hear? She paid the flight price, sell her chocolate! Yalla! Tone it down
quick! Sell her chocolate quick! You piece of garbage. What do you mean he’s
not selling her chocolate? Piece of garbage. You are not going to sell my
Flight attendant (to
Passenger B): mark my words. Varna? You’re not going to get there.
Passenger seated near passenger A: I put my dick on you, and on Varna, your mother’s
mother’s cunt, you maniac, you son of a whore, you fucker, you piece of a son
of a thousand…
Meanwhile his companions, including passengers A and B,
move to stop his outburst. The passenger later grabs onto the flight
attendant’s elbow. The flight attendant warns him: “Watch out.”
Thuggishness and sexual harassment
additional context about the incident: the flight attendant had been
selling duty free items in order of seat rows, and Passenger A did not want to
wait until he reached her row.
An airline spokesperson said that the incident “is not
something that I can call unusual, but we’re glad to say that it does not
happen exactly every day” and that “the phenomenon of disrespect to air crew,
verbal thuggishness, and aggressive conduct with the crew is a phenomenon we
identify as increasing, not only in ours but in very many airlines.”
Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israir also
said that “a security officer on the flight declined to intervene in
the argument because it was not a security incident.”
If several Palestinian or other Arab passengers had
behaved in the same manner, is it possible to imagine they would not have been
deemed a “security” threat?
A female flight attendant with the Israeli state airline
ElAl is quoted by Walla! News about the harassment workers routinely
experience: “There’s a custom of addressing the flight attendant not by pushing
the call button but by touching her buttocks or pulling the crease of her
trousers or the hem of her skirt. He [the passenger] doesn’t do this thinking
sexually, but you get off a flight after quite a few passengers have touched
you or pulled your trousers or skirt. It is definitely unpleasant.”
“What is she, an Arab?”
“The question asked by Passenger A – ‘What is she, an
Arab?’ – touches some very core issues inside Jewish Israeli society,” Shunra
The phrase is extremely colloquial, Shunra says. It
rarely appears in writing – but can be found often in online comment threads.
The phrase briefly made its way into the American
mainstream days after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.
Benjamin Emanuel asserted that Obama’s appointment of
his son, Rahm Emanuel, as White House chief of staff would
be beneficial to Israel.
“Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel,”
the elder Emanuel, a former member of the Irgun Zionist terrorist
group, said. “Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab?
He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
What all of these usages have in common is an assumption
that the speaker of the rhetorical question “What is she/am I, an Arab?”
occupies a superior position, while Arabs are clearly inferior.
One sarcastic Twitter user subverted the question to
highlight Israel’s systematic discrimination, writing, “Connect her village to
a sewage line, why not, is she an Arab?”
The woman was pushed into the water precisely because
she is an Arab.
And lawmaker Haneen
Zoabi was again banned from running in Israel’s upcoming election
for precisely the same reason: she is an Arab who loudly challenges Israel’s
official racism and discrimination. The decision was later overturned by Israel’s high court.