Saturday, June 2, 2012

Thus spoke the Minister

 Thus spoke The Minister of the Interior of the State of Israel: "They called me a racist, hater of children, sinister  and cruel, but I knew that finally everybody will realize I was right. The Sudanese are chasing women and raping them. I know that many women in Tel Aviv were raped and are afraid to complain, because they don't want to be stigmatized as HIV carriers. The Africans carry diseases such as tuberculosis, measles and malaria as well as AIDS and because they live so crowded they all the time infect each other. Giving them medical treatment costs millions and it will inflate to billions. The reports which I get are a true horror. They have set up a state within the state. It's unbelievable, shops, restaurants, halls. They also build underground, they dig deep under the earth. I do not want to talk about all the horror stories I heard, their culture of murder and assassination. The African infiltrators along with the Palestinians will bring us down, put an end to the Zionist Dream. We had not faced such a threat since the Destruction of the Temple. I may sound like a racist or a sinister xenophobe, but I am just acting out of love for my country. We need more prisons and detention camps. We need to convert military camps so that we can lock them up, all without exception. Put them in prison for three years and then throw them out. I know that the detention centers which we have will soon be filled up, so I propose to grant an amnesty to thousands of prisoners who are less dangerous so we will have place for the African infiltrators who are a far greater threat to state security. They will be driven away, they will be deported, they will be expelled".

And Minister Eli Yishai spoke more and more and even more in the same vein, filling all three pages which Ma'ariv newspaper placed at his disposal in its weekend edition. An anonymous protester in the streets of South Tel Aviv this week managed to sum up the minister's teachings into just seven short words: "A good Kushi is a dead Kushi". The demonstration in which this succinct slogan was held aloft had been perfectly legal, held with a permit from the Tel Aviv Police. It was the counter-demonstrators, standing across and carrying such signs as "Stop incitement, stop racism!" who were warned by the police that they were violating public order and sternly ordered to disperse immediately.

And who exactly is a "Kushi"? Sudanese and Eritreans have a quite obvious skin color. But what about Ethiopians? Geographically, Ethiopia is in the middle between Sudan and Eritrea, and its residents have the same skin color as their neighbors. Also those Ethiopians who had been recognized by Israel as Jews and brought over here made into Israeli citizens, fully equal rights to everybody else (at least officially). One can understand the average Israeli racist finding it difficult to make subtle distinctions and sometimes falling into embarrassing mistakes and raising his fist at the wrongKushi”.

By the way, exactly this week the police ordered young Ethiopians to dismantle the protest tent which they had set up outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, to protest the racist manifestations which they encountered in the Israeli society. (Yes, this too
is a disturbance of public order)

Eli Yishai is not alone. Almost all European countries now have politicians who give prominence to the same kind of message, crying out hoarsely about the danger and threat posed to their countries by migrants and refugees and asylum seekers. Often, such parties receive substantial percentages in elections. And yet, they
have a good reason to be jealous of the Israeli Eli Yishai. There is still in today's Europe a strong and fierce opposition to such parties and politicians, a great reluctance to let them enter governments and take up ministerial positions. In most cases they can only keep shouting hoarsely from opposition benches.

Not quite by chance, most of the European xenophobes and immigrant-hating politicians declare themselves to be staunch friends of Israel, and call upon their own countries to learn from Israel and emulate Israeli practices. And not by chance, their love is returned by their Israeli counterparts, Israeli xenophobes, Arab-haters and adherents of settlement in the Occupied Territories. Year by year do the Israelis and European xenophobes expand their ties and cooperation mutual visits to Israel and Europe.

True, for some time there were in the Israeli extreme right some qualms about the "Freedom" party of Austria, founded by the late unlamented Joerg Haider. A resounding xenophobic speech sounds particularly bad when made in the German language. But also this barrier is cracking. Two weeks ago, Knesset Member Nissim Zeev, of Interior Minister Yishai's party, accepted the invitation of the Austrian Freedom Party to appear at a conference they organized, providing the full charge for airfare and lodging. He addressed the party members for half an hour, as a guest of honor, and gained a standing ovation for the message he brought them from Israel. Also Gershon Mesika, head of the "Samaria Regional Council," which incorporates the settlers in the Nablus Area, was there, and too was applauded. As did also the well-known Professor Hillel Weiss who opposes democracy and calls for its replacement by a monarchy under the Laws of the Torah and the Halacha, and who once said that police evacuating settlers are "worse than the Germans" (this comparison he probably did not repeat when addressing the German-speaking audience). Indeed, the Chief Rabbi of Austria, Chaim Eisenberg, had appealed to Weiss,  Mesika and Ze'ev and asked them not to participate in this conference organized by this Austrian party, but they did not find his opinion worth considering.

Recently a prominent new member was added to the club of Xenophobic parties in Europe, when due to the severe crisis in Greece the Golden Dawn Party entered its parliament. Party leader Nikos Michloliakos calls for the immediate establishment of vast detention camps in which all migrants on  Greek soil should be placed, until their expulsion. Just like Eli Yishai. The problem is this is also a party at whose headquarters "Mein Kampf" is being sold, and has a flag with an emblem that resembles the swastika and its members make Nazi salutes and question whether a Holocaust ever occurred at all and if six million Jews perished in it. This
would probably prevent xenophobes here in Israel from linking up with this party. At least for the time being.

Linguistic note: The term "Kushi", like much else in Hebrew, comes from the Bible. It was originally a geographical name, referring to a native of the Land of Kush - roughly present-day Sudan - and as such did not carry a pejorative meaning, Then it came to refer to anyone with a black skin, and gained some pejorative connotations already in Biblical times - especially where Moses' family is mentioned as displeased with his having married a Kushite woman.

 In present-day Israel, "Kushi" is fast developing into having all the connotations which "Nigger" has in English - an innovation which the Hebrew language and  Israeli society could well have done without.