4/7/2016 Israelis Comes to Grips with Their Prejudices
It started on Tuesday morning, with an investigative report on Israeli radio news. Israeli hospitals were accommodating Jewish Mothers who wished to give birth in separate rooms, rooms without any Israeli Arabs. This was taking place even though it violated the official policy of the Ministry of Health and the officially stated policy of the administrations of each of the hospitals. The evidence was undeniable. Tapes were recorded of women calling the hospitals in question to ask whether it would be possible for them not to be placed in rooms with non-Jews. In all but two cases, the women were answered in the affirmative.
A public storm ensued. To date, Israeli hospitals have been one of the central institutions known their integration; where a large number of Arab-Israeli doctors and nurses serve together with their Jewish-Israeli counterparts – and where no one questions the fact that Arab and Jewish Israelis are treated and served equally. This public controversy might have been a five minute story, had it not been for a Knesset Member from the right wing the Bayit HaYehudi party, Bezalel Smotrich’s inability to contain himself. Smotrich tweeted that after giving birth his wife “wanted quiet and did not want to be in a noisy room where Arabs are having a ‘Hafla’ (rowdy party).” Not to be outdone, his wife gave a radio interview and said that she does not want her newborn Jewish infant touched by non-Jewish hands. Then, Smotrich, also not wanting to be outdone, stated he does not want his newborn baby to be in the same room with an Arab child, who a few years from now will come and try to kill his child.
The criticism was fast in coming, mostly directed at MK Smotritch – with the head of his party, Minister of Education Naftali Bennet immediately issuing a Facebook post on how he had spent the Sabbath in Rambam hospital in Haifa (where his father was hospitalized) and how he received wonderful treatment from Jews and Arabs alike. Later in the day, Bennet gave a speech in which he said that all Israelis are the same and need to be treated as such; whether in hospitals, at work, in schools or Universities.
From the left-wing of the political spectrum the attacks on Smotrich were sharp. MK Stav Shafir from the Zionist Camp stated: “Smotrich is the type of person who exists everywhere in the world, i.e. give them a group in which to belong and they will poison it with hate, blindness and racism. All that is important for them in life is maintaining their feeling of superiority.” While the left-wing was clear in their criticism, as was Bennet, others were more circumspect. MK Oren Hazon went as far as to defend Smotrich, by saying we must take into account the fact that we are at war. Minister of Justice Aylet Shaked, who is dependent on support from the likes of Smotrich within the Bayit Hayehudi party was careful in her criticism, stating that what Smotrich said should not have been said and does not reflect the views or her party.
This story takes place against the background of a story that continues to dominate Israeli media – and that is the story of the soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian terrorist after he was on the ground, and in the eyes of most observers no longer posed a threat to anyone. The army is still investigating, but the military court has refused the military prosecution’s request to keep the accused soldier in jail until the investigation is completed. It is expected this soldier will be charged with manslaughter within a week; after the investigation of pathologist determines it was the shot of the accused Israeli soldier that killed the terrorist, and not his earlier wounds.
What has shocked many observers is that over 50% of the public seem to support the actions of the accused soldier. Still the criticism of the Army’s Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister for publicly condemning the soldier’s actions continue. Further upsetting many, is the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu called the family of the soldier, not to support his actions, but rather to say he “understands what the family is going through.”
While the two stories are related they are clearly not one and the same story. In the case of the soldier who allegedly killed the neutralized terrorist, he benefits from the fact that almost every Israeli has been in the army, or has a child who has served. As such, there is a natural inclination to defend the soldier, even if his actions are indefensible. Furthermore, the accused soldier killed a terrorist.
The story of the hospital maternity wards and MK Smotrich's shameful statement touches a much different nerve. Most Israelis do not think of themselves as racists, and do not think of themselves as living in a racist society. However, when an event like this occurs, it forces every Israeli to take a hard look in the mirror and question where over 100 years of conflict is taking the society. Almost all Israelis, whether living in the liberal confines of Tel Aviv, or areas not quite as liberal would agree – this week’s events are not taking Israel to the best of places.