Raising Racism and Ethnocentrism in Israel and the United States: A Clear and Present Danger

Posted on Sep 8, 2019

For people like me, the interpretation of the term “chosen people” I share is the universalist tradition. To summarize what our erudits teach us is that the nature of “chosenness” is not a badge of superiority and separation. Quite the contrary: Jewish chosenness is a humble call to action and responsibility. If at all, Jews claiming to be the first monotheist specifically have been chosen to, or have chosen to,” be of service to others so that the world may be a more just place.

by Edward Edy Kaufman*

Racism propagated by the elected leaders in Israel and the United States has been a growing concern particularly throughout the last months. The use again of ethnocentrism as a unifying factor seems not only to be a self-serving policy but the true mindset with leaders such as Netanyahu and Trump. In other words, are they close friends only for convenience sake with just similar demagogic discourses? Or is the issue being a mix of narcissism, authoritarian personalities that cover for escapism from crucial decision-making?

Image courtesy of Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr.

Are their statements related to electoral maneuvering? The election campaign in Israel – the second in six months – is scheduled in a few days. Netanyahu had to call the election after failing to align a majority coalition government of 61 in the Israeli Knesset. In the USA general elections scheduled for 2020 there are already two announced Republican candidates running against Trump in the primaries. Two other entrants remain strong possibilities.

Furthermore, the estimated support of both Netanyahu and Trump of around a solid 25-35 % of the vote is not showing an enthusiastic majority, but a plausible victory due to the electoral college system in the United States, and the need for multi-party coalitions in Isreal. To raise doubts among the supporters of these two incumbents may seem “impossible”, but could we energize some of their less ardent supporters by pointing to the scepter of racism?

Granted, the wave of building authoritarian power through majority rule by attacking minorities orally or physically is part of a worrying trend worldwide. But being a citizen of both countries, I am obliged to consider the responsibility of both President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the heightened level of racism. But the comparison between the political deeds and statements of their closeness and bonding calls me to point out similarities as well as differences between them. The two show more similar traits than differences when it comes to racism in their countries. Research of behavior and rhetorical discourse of both has been studied lately by Prof. Shaul Kimhi- a psychologist of Tel Hai College in Northern Israel expert in political leaders’ profiles- as well as journalists as Roger Cohen in the Washington Post.

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What unites them in their spreading of racist ideology is their exaggerated inner wisdom regarding the need to stop the demographic “threat” [in Hebrew also referred as “demographic bomb”] to their people who will soon no longer be a majority. In the US, fear is spread among the white population just by the color of their skin and religion. This is not the case in Israel– we proudly have Jews settling from about ninety countries. While the founders of the state were European, we do have Jewish immigrants from North and Black Africa, as well as India. The sense of peoplehood has been forged by the suffering of a people persecuted because of religion and expanded by pointing to the common enemy – the Arabs. The fear that unites them is –as racist former Knesset member Rabbi Meir Kahan clearly stated that by “bullets or babies” the Arabs are trying to terminate the Jewish state. Not surprisingly, several extremist rabbis have called on their communities not to let apartments to Arabs. One ignorant rabbi, explained that “Jewish blood differs from non-Jewish”

However, it seems that if we would continue to be a majority rule democracy, stopping immigration or just not giving equal rights to the Palestinians living in the Occupied territories does not stop the Caucasians in the United States or the Jews in the Promised Land to become a minority.

PARODICALLY, IN BOTH THE USA AND ISRAEL, TRUMP AND NETANYAHU ARE MANIPULATING FEAR BECAUSE OF THE DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY SYSTEM WOULD PREVENT THEIR OWN IDENTITY GROUP TO RULE.

THE FIRST- EVEN WITH ATTEMPTS TO STOP IMMIGRATION FROM LATIN AMERICA-, ACCORDING TO THE US BUREAU OF STATISTIC ESTIMATES, THE WHITE NON-HISPANIC PEOPLE TO A 48.5% MINORITY.

AND IN ISRAEL, ANNEXING THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES OF EAST JERUSALEM AND THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES IN THE FUTURE [AS PREDICATED BY THE GREATER ISRAEL MOVEMENT] in 2017 the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics estimated that the collective Palestinian Arab population in the region of Palestine, including Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, amounted to 5.79 million people in 2017. With just over 6.5 million Jews, Israel’s Foreign Ministry estimates that some 1.8 million people, comprising some 24 percent of Israel’s population, are non-Jews. primarily Arabic-speaking, groups, each with distinct characteristics.

Israel is the only Jewish state defined as such by a majority. BUT THE PALESTINIAN BUREAU OF STATISTICS FORECAST ALREADY FOR 2020 THAT THE JEWISH POPULATION WILL BECOME A MINORITY. A Jewish minority, unless…. either by ethnic cleansing expulsion of Arabs or an Apartheid minority rule as earlier in South Africa they can’t maintain control of the government.

Already now three generations of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem do not have the right to vote or be elected [in violation of Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights]. It may be sadly relevant to point out that the final wording of this monumental document was provided by a proud French Jew, jurist Rene Cassin- for what he was granted a Nobel Peace Prize.

Hence, this type of regime will not resemble a democracy, by any means. Living with fear or having blind faith in God’s help may provide enough votes to become re-elected. Now in Israel, Netanyahu is serving longer than any previous Prime Minister, even more than the founder of the Jewish State, David Ben Gurion.

Meanwhile, In the case of the Jewish state’s government in the last decade is blatantly reducing the rights of the native Arab population in Israel and totally denying the civil rights of the Palestinians under military occupation and settlements.

The supremacist message of President Trump is mostly directed today to stop the Latin American immigrants. While they themselves are diverse in terms of Christianity, ethnicity, and even language, their geographic origin has become stereotyped as a group that is growingly threatening the status of what has been called the WASPs [White American Anglo-Saxon Protestants]. Furthermore, without any remorse for the blatant racial discriminatory past, Trump finds as well useful and perhaps legitimate to attack the African American minority by stereotyping them.
Hence, justification of xenophobic appeals such as “the Arab hordes are being bused to the polling stations” by Netanyahu in the 2015 elections calling for last minute Jewish voters to do so was also popularly expressed by the rhyming “Bibi or Tibi” [Bibi is Netanyahu’s nickname and Tibi the family name of an Arab member of Knesset- the Jewish parliament].

President Trump, after visualizing good people among the neo-Nazi violent demonstration and the defenders of equal rights in Charlottesville has recently call upon his Israeli homologue to ban the entry of two Democratic Muslim Congresswomen, one of Palestinian parents –albeit radical but still democratically elected. This ban by Netanyahu has been strongly criticized not only by the entire Democratic Party but also by AIPAC, the official Israeli Lobby.

There could be nothing more demeaning than to give up democracy and human rights for the sake of nationhood. I would continue to resist peacefully with all my might to live in an autocracy, when one people is dominating another people. “One men [person] one vote” is still the rule in Israel today, and preventing the same right for the Palestinian nation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem [with the Israeli pullout from Gaza is a “one vote – one already acquired in Gaza] will be an anti-historic folly.

What finally sticks out as a similarity is the egocentric and authoritarian personality of both leaders. Let me backtrack. From my adolescence in Argentina, I also found dangerous the antidemocratic discourse of some political leaders, perhaps from my profound repugnance of popular fascist tendencies that got massive support in Europe and Latin America at times of imaginary or real security or economic crisis. They fomented fear from an “Other” neighboring states and even prejudice from fellow citizens within. A reminder for some of us of such demagogues that pointed to us Jews as part of an international conspiracy through domination of both the Kremlin and Wall Street. These enemies of democracy were able to attract a large mass of people who felt helpless or threatened.

Trump and Netanyahu may fit several dimensions of a studied prototype. Since I was a sociology student a t Hebrew University, before I became a university teacher –now celebrating 50 years in the classrooms- a Jubilee [the word comes from Hebrew “Yovel and then Arabic Yubil] I studied Adorno’s et al F scale that targets an authoritarian, anti-democratic personality profile as a transmitter or receiver. The items were written in accordance to fascist propaganda materials’ analysis, protocol data and interviews with ethnocentric participants and covered the following traits, briefly:

• Conventionalism: Adherence to conventional values.
• Authoritarian Submission: Towards in-group authority figures.
• Authoritarian Aggression: Against people who violate conventional values.
• Anti-Introrception: Opposition to subjectivity and imagination.
• Superstition and Stereotypy: Belief in individual fate; thinking in rigid categories.
• Power and Toughness: Concerned with submission and domination; assertion of strength.
• Destructiveness and Cynicism: hostility against human nature.
• Projectivity: Perception of the world as dangerous; tendency to project unconscious impulses.
• Sex: Overly concerned with modern sexual practices.

Perhaps is not too late to join -now from Israel- those in the United States concerned with ethnocentrism, ultra-nationalism, fundamentalist, violent extremism, xenophobia, chauvinism, racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis against Jews, African American, Latinos, LGTB coalition and who else? Hatred to the “Other” is a clear and present danger.

If for Trump the only thing that counts is “America First”, so what about the rest? Not clear. Help, compassion, universal human rights multilateral institutions, do not count. And for Bibi, even if the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” still remember that “the entire world has been against us”. Just count on the leader, “Bibi King of Israel” as shouted by his hard-core followers. Or in the case of Trump, more indirectly, attack the enemy, and in the 2015 elections shout against Hillary Clinton: “lock her up, lock her up”.

Israel expressed our thanks for the President that recognized the state of Israel first among world nations in 1948, hence we have a village named Kfar Truman. And now Netanyahu with great fanfare has inaugurated the “Trump Heights” in the Golan [re-1967 Syrian territory and now solely recognized by the President as part of Israel]. In the Jewish tradition it is not a good omen to name places on behalf of a still living person fearing to become a conventional post-mortem homage soon.

To conclude, unmasking ethnocentrism or populist racism –once camouflaged as “the white man’s burden” supremacism or “the chosen people”, if at all, should be distorting the meaning of the mission presumably instructed by the Almighty God.

For people like me, the interpretation of the term “chosen people” I share is the universalist tradition. To summarize what our erudits teach us is that the nature of “chosenness” is not a badge of superiority and separation. Quite the contrary: Jewish chosenness is a humble call to action and responsibility. If at all, Jews claiming to be the first monotheist specifically have been chosen to, or have chosen to,” be of service to others so that the world may be a more just place. This is not to say that all — or even most — “Jews have accepted the task for which they were chosen. Again, quite the contrary. The Bible itself, primarily in the books of the Prophets, tells us that Jews have consistently rebelled against this call and the rebellion continues to this day.”

And finally, my favorite Rabbi Hillel the Elder, when asked to explain the entire Torah standing on one foot, just answered “”That which is hateful to you, do not due to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” I am not sure that both Netanyahu and Trump have followed such principle. Furthermore, nor do they empathize with the other two remarkable dialectical corollaries, the first”” If am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14 and “Tough should love your neighbor as yourself”

To reclaim the right to be different and at the same time grant such equal right to all other people like us is the sage encounter of particularism and universalism. The sad realization that at crucial times when opportunities for wise and fearless leadership can bring external and internal peace and reconciliation, overcoming the self-inflicted wounds, we now may lose the opportunity to change. As said by more than one former wise leader “Yes, we can”

Trump and Netanyahu have not even semantically used the term universal human rights and tended to be friendly with the most repressive leaders around the world. We should remind them of Jefferson and the Bill of Rights. And to Bibi, please say louder? that Judaism has been among the first systems to oppose the death penalty, to abolish slavery, to give rights to women, to create fair courts of law, and to value knowledge over might.
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* Prof. Edward Edy Kaufman has been intermittently teaching international human rights and conflict resolution in both Israel and the United States for fifty years and lately at the University of Maryland and Haifa University. Thanks also to Tim Diehl, who was most helpful in the preparation of this article.