Israel is not just racist towards Palestinians but it is also racist towards Black Jews
Israel is not just racist towards Palestinians but it is also racist towards Black Jews
Israel is not just racist towards Palestinians but it is also racist towards Black Jews
If Israel is primarily a Jewish Supremacist State it is ALSO a White Supremacist State
In February 2019, in response to an article on Al Jazeera by Yoav Litvin on ‘The Zionist fallacy of ‘Jewish supremacy’ I wrote a responseWhy Israel is a Jewish, not a white supremacist state. In retrospect I may have bent the stick too far because yes, Israel is a White Supremacist State but the primary divide is between Jews and Palestinians not Black and White Jews. Litvin was right to say that:
Where Litvin went wrong was to say that ‘Zionist propagandists have promoted the anti-Semitic fallacy that Israel is a Jewish state, which represents Judaism and thus all Jews.’ Of course it is anti-Semitic to say that Israel is a state of all Jews, with the implication that all Jews, even anti-Zionists ‘belong’ in Israel. But it is also true, as a matter of fact that Israel is a Jewish state in so far as Israel is a Jewish Supremacist State. Just as Northern Ireland was a Protestant Supremacist State, Israel gives privileges to Jews, all Jews, that it doesn’t give to Palestinians.
Unfortunately Litvin conflated two things. Israel as a Jewish State does not imply that Israel is a state representing Judaism but it does mean that Israel is a Jewish state, in a racially supremacist sense. Hence why Litvin’s statement that
‘If it is accepted, as it is by Zionists, that Israel indeed represents Judaism and all Jews – an expression of “Jewish supremacy” – then those who are pro-Palestinian must also reject Jews and Judaism.
No state represents a particular religion per se. However many states use religion, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran, to legitimise repression of their inhabitants. Judaism like all religions, is not a fixed body of doctrines. It changes as society changes and Jewish religion has changed politically over the last century from an anti-Zionist to a Zionist position.
Hence why Litvin made the cardinal mistake of saying that if Palestinians reject a Jewish state they reject Judaism. No they reject Jewish Supremacy. Irish Republicans have never rejected Protestantism as a religion. On the contrary some of the most famous Republicans were Protestant, such as Wolfe Tone and Sir Roger Casement, executed by the British in 1916 for treason.
So it was necessary for me to write a corrective to Litvin’s article where I argued that ‘Zionism is certainly tainted by white supremacy, but this is a secondary, not primary, feature’.
This is seen very clearly in the following articles. Yes Black Israelis such as the Ethiopian Jews and the Black Israelite communities in the Negev are discriminated against vis a vis Jews but not in terms of the Palestinians. Indeed the struggle against discrimination against Black Israeli Jews is also a struggle to be recognised as equal partners in the oppression of the Palestinians.
There are very few Black Jews in Israel who recognise that they share a joint struggle with the Palestinians against Zionism. On the contrary they seek to serve in the Israeli army which is in occupation of part of Palestine. This is what was known in the United States as the ‘poor White mentality.’ Black Jews are Israel’s poor Whites.
Underneath Gavin Lewis’ article is an article in Ha’aretz detailing the struggle of the Black Hebrew Israelite community to be recognised as full citizens of the Israeli state. Again they do not see their struggle as complementary to that of the Palestinians.
In the face of postwar condemnation of Western conquest and apartheid domination of countries such as Rhodesia and South Africa, as well as a more recent global tide of Black Lives Matter consciousness, Israel has, via recent Western political media’s ideological reengineering, escaped scrutiny for its systemic racist colonial construction, even when its victims are Jewish people of color. Even when reports of its racism escape this ideological censorship, examples of racism in Israel are treated as isolated incidents, rather than systemic characteristics of the entire racist regime.
In 2015, African-American Jewish mother Idit Malka and her young son attempted to visit Israel as part of an extended family celebration. According to the Jewish news agency Mondoweiss, “Malka was not even able to make it out of Ben-Gurion Airport. She and her 10-year-old child were, upon arrival, promptly detained in a holding cell for close to 48 hours.” (1)
Both Mondoweissand the Jerusalem Post reported that, before being deported, an Israeli woman official screamed at Malka that “Eretz Yisrael isn’t a country for cushim [a racist Hebrew slur for Black people]” 
In the period prior to her visit, Malka had come to believe that, as a Black Jew, she was also permitted to regard Israel as a homeland. What she believes now as a Black woman having experienced Israeli racism is open to speculation. However, had she actually succeeded in going on to spend protracted time in the country, and perhaps experienced its ongoing practices, it might have caused her to rigorously revise her opinion.
Israel has subjected Black Jews to forced contraceptive injections. In 2013, Haaretz and the Times of Israel put the figure of suppressed Black Jewish reproduction at 50 percent.  That is, even according to Israel’s own media at the time, over 130,000 Black Jews have had, as a matter of institutional practice, their potential reproduction forcibly curbed by up to half. Invoking the horrors of Nazi practices and illuminating the reality of modern-day eugenics, even Forbes magazine described it as “forced (if temporary) sterilization.” 
In 2009, Israel’s Ynetnews revealed that there were Israeli neighborhoods operating whites-only housing polices—designed specifically to keep out Black Ethiopian Jews—citing the town of Ashkelon as an example.  The irony of white Western settlers keeping Black Jews out of the town is that, prior to the Nakba, Ashkelon had a ten-thousand-strong Indigenous Arab population. In 2012, Israel’s Jerusalem Post was still citing whites-only housing practices. One resident in the city of Kiryat Malachi was cited by the news outlet as supporting the racist practice, proclaiming that “a good Ethiopian is an Ethiopian in a grave.” 
In 2017, the Daily Beast reported that Tel Aviv was racially segregating its kindergartens to keep Black and white toddlers apart.  In 2018, Israel’s Haaretz further confirmed this segregation of children. Similarly, for years, Israel has rejected so-called Black blood donations as “unclean,” which on occasion has caused race riots.’  In 2013, the Times of Israel reported that this restriction was even imposed on the blood donations of the unusually prominent Ethiopian Jewish politician Pnina Tamanu Shata.
In 2016, the U.S. San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper reported that “over three hundred Black Jews have announced their intention to refuse any military order to report for reserve duty, accusing the Israeli government of state-sponsored racism against citizens of Ethiopian origin.”12 This widespread attitude was hardly surprising given the climate and consciousness around race in the country. For example, in 2015, numerous news agencies, including Ynetnews, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post, reported a police attack on an Ethiopian Jew doing his national service, who was even in his Israeli Defense Forces uniform at the time of the assault. Hundreds protested when it was announced that police would escape prosecution. 
One of the marketed excuses for Israel’s colonial conquest of Palestine is that the Jewish white Western invaders supposedly shared an identity with Indigenous Jews of the region. Yet, in terms of colonial racism, Jewish white settlers conquering Palestine clearly regarded themselves as an elevated, superior, separate Western ethnic group, because among their first victims were actually Indigenous Middle Eastern Jews. In 2017, it came to light that a large number of children who had been brought up by settler parents were actually Yemeni-Jewish. Blood tests demonstrated that they had been stolen from Yemeni parents who had been regarded as too culturally primitive to successfully rear their own children.
As the Jewish news organization Mondoweiss revealed:
Known as the Yemenite Children Affair, in the first decade after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, there was a systematic kidnapping of newborn Yemenite children, carried out by Israeli hospitals and government institutions. Mothers, who often were in Israel for a short time and did not speak Hebrew, would enter hospitals or other state facilities to give birth. Once the child was born medical staff told the parents the child died.… The babies who went missing, parents claim, were given away to childless Ashkenazi families (Jews of European descent–the dominant ethnic group in Israel at the time).
However, as Mondoweiss further pointed out, the complete extent of settler crimes against the Indigenous Yemeni Jews also included eugenics-like human experimentation: “a Knesset committee followed up by confirming earlier this month that Yemenite babies died during the 1950s after state medical institutions conducted experiments on them.” 
The BBC refused to publicize this major scandal, but the un-broadcast “The Yemenite Children Affair” story can still be found buried on its website. In it, its reports confirm that “there are healthy babies who died from an experimental treatment. It’s a crime, it was on purpose, and it led to their death.” 
The BBC’s hidden un-broadcast report also concedes, as part of Israel’s overall strategy, that
“post-mortem examinations were carried out on children, who were then buried in mass graves in violation of Jewish tradition, the special Knesset committee on the disappearance of children heard. In some cases the children’s hearts were removed for US doctors, who were studying why there was almost no heart disease in Yemen.” 
Obviously, human experimentation, like the forced sterilization of Black Jews, is reminiscent of Nazi policies. Strategically, this inescapable comparison is something Israel forcibly tries—most often through the imposed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition—to suppress via the false ideological characterization of this analysis as anti-Semitic; in effect, deliberately exempting Israel from scrutiny for Nazi-type offences. This, regardless of the fact, that those who actually fought the Nazis vowed to be ever-vigilant about scrutinizing the potential reoccurrence of such fascist practices, wherever they may arise.
There is little space in this article to deal with religious persecution in Israel. But it is worth reporting that during the 2012–13 soccer season, the Russian owner of Beitar Jerusalem football club signed two young Chechen Muslim strikers. Because of their religion, they were routinely described as “dirty Arabs,” which in itself says a lot about the status and treatment of Indigenous Arabs in apartheid Israel. Literally thousands of Israelis drove the athletes out of the club and country in a campaign of intimidation and occasional violence, depicted in the 2016 documentary Forever Pure.
Clearly, Israel is not, as it chooses to market itself, simply a Jewish nation, but a white-settler state that happens to be Jewish, well deserving of the prefix apartheid attached to its name by many, including the United Nations and other human rights observers such as Nobel Peace Prize-winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter. The horrors listed here have all been perpetrated against Black and Indigenous Jewish people of color, including visitors to the country. However, in scale and number, these practices are outsized by the equivalently racist, lethal, tortuous, and entrenched racism against the Indigenous Palestinians. Sadly, if even “Other” Jews can be victims of Israel’s racist oppression, nothing spares Palestinians.
The global cover-up of Israel’s systemic racist oppression has had enormous ramifications for domestic Western democracy. In 2020, Keir Starmer, the new neoliberal leader of the UK Labour Party, sacked his shadow education spokeswomen Rebecca Long Bailey. Long Bailey’s crime was that, after the killing of George Floyd, she retweeted a British corporate media story referring to how Israel had trained U.S. police departments responsible for Black Lives Matter offenses. Astonishingly, Starmer spun this as an anti-Semitic Jewish conspiracy theory. Despite the numerous available mainstream sources citing these police training events, no corporate media news outlet, including the one that ran the original story, contradicted Starmer.
Incredibly, after images of George Floyd being fatally choked were published, Starmer’s first instinct was to use the African American’s death to propagandize for an apartheid country—where many non-tourist areas would likely have been dangerous for Floyd and his family, and entire towns in which the Floyd family would have struggled to so much as rent a decent room. Perhaps part of Starmer’s motivation was the $62,000 donation he received from a pro-Israel lobbyist, revealed by the Electronic Intifada this year. Significantly, during the leadership election, Starmer refused to come clean about his campaign funding. In 2016, the UK government and corporate media warned the LGBTQ+ community about potential dangers of visiting North Carolina. Indicative of the second-class racial status of Black Britons, neither Starmer nor other members of the elite professional political and media class have warned them of the potential worst-case scenarios of visiting non-tourist areas of Israel.
Similarly, in the United States, CNN fired African-American academic Dr. Marc Lamont Hill as a contributor after he publicly expressed support for Palestinians. Why should Lamont Hill, as a Black man, say positive things about white-settler colonialism, particularly a white-settler society responsible for the sort of practices listed here? Dr. Lamont Hill has U.S. citizenship, a U.S. passport, and the right to vote. Yet, apparently, he is “only” an African American. Even in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement, the entire U.S. media establishment finds it appropriate to take the side of what is, fundamentally, merely a foreign country, over an African American’s free speech right to articulate an antiracist sensibility. Clearly, Israeli Zionism is a racist threat, the influence of which is not restricted to just its own invented borders.
Afterword: Israel and White-Settler Societies
The evils that accompany and result from white-settler conquest should have by now been dumped into the rubbish bin of history. Many on the political right, and even the political center, pretend that the ramifications of colonial holocausts and land theft are no longer with us. Despite this, structural inequalities remain the current lived experiences of many. If you were a Black family in a Western society in the twentieth-century postwar era, you would have found that much of the United States was out of bounds to you because of segregation. As recently as 1967, if you were a mixed-race family, around seventeen states—more than a third of the United States—was off-limits because of anti-miscegenation laws (for decades after, mixed-race relations were still rarely permitted to be represented in U.S. popular media). White Australian and white New Zealand immigration policies were designed specifically to keep out the British Black Commonwealth and other Black nationals. Similarly, Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa were no place for Black people, be they arriving immigrant visitors or Indigenous Africans.
Yet, in twenty-first-century, in the form of Israel, Black and Indigenous peoples of the world are expected to put up with variants of these traditional white-settler offenses. And, alarmingly, even parts of the left are threatened into exempting Zionism from the sort of critique and anticolonial resistance leveled against other white-settler societies.
About Gavin Lewis
Gavin Lewis is a freelance Black-British mixed-race writer and academic. He has published in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race, and representation. He has taught critical theory and film and cultural studies at a number of British universities.
The Hebrew Israelite community in the Negev town of Dimona never thought the day would come when the authorities would order scores of them to leave Israel.
In fact, they were so sure about their legal status in Israel that in 2015, at their own initiative, they gave the Interior Ministry a list of community members living in the country under the radar and lacking any legal status. Five years later, however, they found that the government had made its own use of the list, sending deportation notices to around half of those on it. There has been no decision about the rest, but they will almost certainly face the same fate.
After their request for legal status was rejected, 45 members of the community – 24 of whom were born in Israel – filed a lawsuit against the deportation orders. A few days ago the suit was rejected, meaning they must leave the country within two weeks. They, however, don’t intend to do that and are planning a court battle that is expected to delay the expulsions. A few have declared they’d rather to die than leave the place to which they believe God sent them to serve him.
The Hebrew Israelite community first took shape in the United States in the 1960s around the figure of Ben Carter, who later adopted the name Ben Ammi Ben-Israel and led the group until his death in 2014. At the end of the 1960s, members of the community began settling in Israel, mainly in Dimona and another Negev town, Arad.
Children from the Hebrew Israelite community Credit: Ofer Vaknin
At first the Israeli government considered them a cult and planned to deport them, but information reaching the Interior Ministry warned that the group might commit mass suicide. The orders were rescinded, and attempts to deport them were never resumed, as officials grew anxious about how deportation would affect Israel’s image or the status of American Jews. On the other hand, nothing was done to regularize the Hebrew Israelite’ status over the decades.
In 1985, Carter said that if the government would make them citizens, he would promise not to allow any more members to reside in Israel illegally. In response, community members who had resided in Israel for at least a decade and appeared on the group’s membership roles were granted legal status. Initially, they were granted temporary-resident status and in 2003 it was upgraded to permanent residence on humanitarian grounds.
The Interior Ministry says that permanent residents can apply for citizenship but only if they renounce their American citizenship. The Hebrew Israelites who qualify have chosen to remain permanent residents. The exceptions are family members who served in the Israel Defense Forces, who can obtain citizenship without surrendering their foreign citizenship.
In recent years, the community has kept a low profile. Israeli authorities have no idea how many members it has. “I am aware of about 2,000 community members, but anything is possible. There may be thousands that we don’t know about,” Yoel Lipovetsky, head of the Population and Immigration Authority, told Haaretz.
Reports appearing in the past in Haaretz and in the Maariv news site point to a population of about 3,000. The fact that the government doesn’t know testifies to its lack of interest in the community. As a result, scores of them have been living in Israel, in some cases for decades, with no legal status or action taken against them. Some community members have lived in Israel long enough to become grandparents.
The Hebrew Israelite community welcome sign: ‘Welcome to the village of peace’ Credit: Moti Milord
Hasida Bat Yisrael, 45, says she was born in Israel and lived here until she was 14, when her family left the country. “I always wanted to come back, and when I was the right age I returned,” she says. She was 25 and the mother of two. Her husband, Joe, came to Israel after her, and since then they’ve had four more children. Bat Yisrael is slated for deportation, along with all her children, since none of them have any legal status in Israel. She refused to be photographed lest the authorities identify her.
Living without legal status is very difficult. The status-less cannot open a bank account or receive a salary, and they generally work within the community or get paid in cash. They must pay privately for medical care because they can’t be HMO members. Essentially, they get no services from the state authorities. This vacuum is filled by the community which provides them with economic assistance if necessary.
“To live without status is very tense,” says Bat Yisrael. She says that after the birth of one of her children (in a home birth, as is traditional in the community), she went to the hospital to have herself and the baby checked out, “and for the one night I stayed there I spent 10,000 shekels.” Today, she says, “My children see their friends in the community who have status doing things that can’t do – go to all kinds of place, or do the army.”
Bat Yisrael has a hard time accepting the Interior Ministry’s decision:
“My life here is the only thing I know. I thought I would get citizenship, since I was born here, but they rejected me. I have a lot to give to the state, but because they are constantly placing obstacles, I can’t break through. I am willing to do anything to stay here; leaving the country is not an option for me. Even if the court makes a decision that allows the state to deport me, I will continue to fight. This is my home, and I am part of this country’s DNA. We come in peace, and want to serve God from Israel.”
Estelle Rivers, 73, has lived in Israel since 2003. She worked in the community, but also volunteered outside it, as an English teacher and amateur singer. She says she converted to Judaism in 1978, but document testifying to this were never submitted to the authorities. Rivers says her daughter lived with her, but the difficulties of living without legal status led her to return to the United States, where she lives as a Jew.
“We’re here for spiritual reasons,” she says. “We have given our lives, our blood and everything we have to the state. There is no conceivable reason for the authorities to do to us what they are doing.” When asked why, then, the state seeks to expel members of the community, she opines that “our skin color plays a role here” and adds: “The authorities may also feel that we are threatening the religious hegemony, but there is nothing we have done that would make them feel that way.”
Members of the community working in a sewing workshopCredit: Moti Milord
“I can’t leave this country,” Rivers declares.
“If they force me to leave it will kill me, it is a death sentence for me. For me this community represents the way the God of Israel wants us to be, the way the God of Israel wants us to treat each other and the way the God of Israel wants us to connect to this country. My soul is in the earth, my heart is in this earth. To be here is my supreme happiness. The court cannot decide to deport us, it cannot.”
Cynthia Harriet Clark, 56, came to Israel when she was 18 and met her husband here. They had eight children, one of whom died. In 2007, Clark traveled to the United States to care for her ailing mother, and when she sought to return she was denied entry. She lived separately from her children until she was able to return to Israel in 2019. Her two adult children are permanent residents, and she says that the status of the others is currently being processed. Clark, whose daughter Atalia served in the IDF, has now applied for Israeli citizenship on the strength of her daughter’s service. According to the Population Authority, she was asked to provide “original and verified” documentation of her claim within 45 days, but did not do so, so it was decided to deport her.
“We always bring the forms they ask us for, but we are constantly told ‘we need something else, we need something else,’” says Atalia Clark, 32, a mother of two herself.
“If they deport my mother, it will break us. I am a single parent, and she helps me a lot, my children have connected with her. For many years we did not have a mother here, and it destroyed us; when she left, my little brother was two-and-a-half years old. For my first birth, she wasn’t here. We don’t want her to leave again.”
Dawn Hercules came to Israel in 1998 and gave birth to eight children here, the youngest of whom is eight years old. All of Dawn’s children are destined for deportation along with her, even though they were born in Israel. Her eldest daughter, Yelital, 23, has lived in Israel all her life without status. When she tried to enlist in the army she was refused, and she studied occupational therapy at a college using a fictitious ID number.
In April, Yelital told Haaretz about the despair aroused by the deportation order. “I was shocked when they did not accept our appeal,” she now says.
“I thought they would want to regulate our status, especially for those born here. I have not thought yet about what will happen next, if the court decides that the state is allowed to deport us. I want to stay optimistic and hope that everything will work out. I’m not even thinking about a reality in which we’ll have to leave the country.”