Chock Full o’ Racism

I’ve been thinking a lot about racism lately.

During the past two weeks I’ve seen what some people might call “subtle” racism in Israel, but it seems to be so abundant that people feel free to blurt things out without any pangs of conscience whatsoever. And in my opinion, it’s not “subtle” at all to begin with.

As part of our house hunt, I’ve been meeting a lot of real estate agents. One of them is actually a really nice guy, originally from my home town of Haifa. On one of our last visits to a house for sale in south Tel Aviv, the agent spoke to us about the price, as we stood in front of it after touring the inside with the owners.

“Look”, he says, “This is a great deal. The price is 1.5 million shekels – but they won’t go down a shekel. You gotta understand, they’re Yemenite. They’re not like us Ashkenazim”.

Little did our nice agent know that my wife, standing right next to him, was of Iraqi descent.

Another agent, a much younger guy, was similar in his bluntness. With him I saw a garden flat in an area just on the border of a neighborhood called Kfar Shalem – a place that doesn’t have the best reputation in Tel Aviv. The closeness worried me, so I asked him what kind of people live in the building and in the area. “Are there young couples moving in?”

“Listen”, he says, “it’s a very colorful neighborhood, you get a really diverse population here. But don’t worry, there are’nt any Arabs.”

Well thank G-d for that.

While searching for a house to buy, Karen and I have decided to meanwhile move to Bat Yam to save on some dough. Bat Yam is a town that’s also had a bad reputation for years, but seems to be changing due to the high real estate price trend drizzling down from the Greater Tel Aviv area.

So, alongside the house hunt began the “gan (kindergarden) hunt” for our two little girls. And what do you know? Yup. Some more racism.

First place I go to is run by one of those women who wears very tight and revealing  clothes – but really shouldn’t be wearing very tight and revealing clothes. You know those kind, right? Anyway, after keeping me there over 40 minutes lecturing me about her education philosophy, she tells me why she won’t just take any kid into her gan.

“Kids that curse, kids that are violent – I’ll have nothing of it. It means the parents are bad educators, it’s a broken home. And me? I’ll even take an ETHIOPIAN child into my gan – but not a child from a broken home! Oh, no – I won’t!”

How big of her… even an Ethiopian…

I ride my motorcycle to the other part of town, and meet another gan owner who claims to have a B.A. in psychology. Key word being “claims”.

She asks me where I’m coming from, and I tell her Tel Aviv. “Ah, I live in Tel Aviv, close to here. In Ajami”.

Ajami is a neighborhood in Jaffa.

“But I’m leaving Ajami, I can’t take it anymore”.

“Really? Why? What happened?”

“It’s the Arabs, I don’t want my children growing up with those barbarians. I look at them and I can see the hate in their eyes.”

And as I watched her spew her venom, I saw the hate in HER eyes.

But lately I’ve been wondering if I myself am racist. Just this week I had a beer (or two) with some friends of mine, Lisa and Rachel, and the discussion eventually came to the topic of Arsim. Rachel said the word was terrible, equivalent to “nigger”.

That struck a nerve. I use the word often. She claimed it’s a derogatory term that is always connected to Mizrahim. I told her, as I once wrote on my blog, that when people use the word today they don’t necessarily mean Mizrahim – but a certain type of behaviour that transcends ethnicity.

But Rachel pointed that this “certain type of behaviour” will always be associated with Mizrahim. I found it hard to argue with that.

So, what does that make me? And what does it make me for not wanting to move to a certain neighborhood because of its population? Who am I to say this neighborhood or that street has a bad reputation? Am I subconsciously a racist?Surely I can’t be accused of that, right? I mean, all over the world people chose where to live by these criteria, no? How am I any different?

Maybe I should start to practice what I preach.

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