As Jews, we were brought up to reject all forms of hatred and religious prejudice, and this was reinforced by the Holocaust. Revulsion of racial prejudice and the oppression of minorities was seared into our consciousness.
However, in Judaism as with all religions, there are components to our tradition which are open to interpretation. One is the biblical precept enjoining us to uproot the evil nation of Amalek. But throughout the ages, even when focusing on the malevolent aspects of a Haman or a genocidal Hitler, our sages avoided explicitly designating any nation or race with the term Amalek.
Anti-Semites have accused us of racism because of the traditional Jewish bar to intermarriage, and our reluctance to proselytize. But the reality is that this is utterly unrelated to racism.
A convert to Judaism, irrespective of his racial origin, has always been held in the highest possible esteem, and we are enjoined by Halacha to treat him or her as an equal.
We live in troubled times, when societal tensions are exacerbated by apprehension and fear. But it is lamentable that today we have become immersed in an internal debate over racism – largely motivated by crass political demagoguery – which is providing grist for the propaganda mills of our enemies.
Our adversaries abroad have for a long time been trying to label us as racists or worse, as practitioners of “apartheid.” Among the most outrageous accusations is that the Law of Return – enabling any Jew to settle here – is a manifestation of racism.
To refute such calumnies, one need only walk through the streets of our major cities and observe the extraordinarily colorful parade, ranging from those with the Slavic physiognomy through the entire racial kaleidoscope to black Ethiopian Jews. We truly represent a modern melting pot of diverse races.
There are those who also accuse us of imposing apartheid on Arab citizens. Like the early Jewish migrants to the US (and to this day Afro-Americans and Latinos), Arabs are at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. Undoubtedly there is a need for greater efforts to raise their status, but they elect members to the Knesset, enjoy equal rights under the law, and fully benefit from the welfare state.
Anyone doubting this should visit our hospitals, especially in Jerusalem, and witness the medical treatment and facilities provided to every Arab Israeli on absolutely the same level as Jewish Israelis.
OTHER CRITICS point to a recent survey which found that many Israelis are prejudiced against Arabs. Well, what a surprise! We live in a country surrounded by Arab states that have repeatedly launched wars against us, dispatched suicide bombers against our civilians, and rained missiles on our territory. Their media and mosques unceasingly promote the vilest form of anti-Semitism, and relentlessly proclaim their determination to destroy us. In PA-administered areas no less than Hamastan, children are brainwashed from kindergarten into believing that the greatest religious sanctification for a Muslim is to become a martyr and kill Jews.
In addition, even our “moderate” peace partner Mahmoud Abbas pledges that like our other Arab neighbors, not a single Jew will ever be permitted to live in a future Palestinian state. The PA has also instituted a law which makes the death sentence mandatory for any Palestinian committing “high treason” by selling land to a Jew.
Yet our elected Arab MKs provocatively support those seeking our destruction. Most of the Arab political establishment commemorates Yom Ha’atzmaut as “Nakba,” a day of mourning.
The head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, calls for the overthrow of the Jewish state, openly supports Hamas, incites hatred, and continuously issues treasonable proclamations.
IN SUCH a poisonous climate, despite determined efforts by governments of all political orientations, and the judiciary, to diminish ethnic and religious tensions and confrontations, the emergence of prejudice is inevitable.
It would make an interesting exercise to speculate how other countries would respond to an ethnic minority whose political representatives and many of its religious leaders publicly side with enemies committed to their annihilation. Or whether under such circumstances any other country would countenance having an Arab judge presiding over the trial of a former president charged with rape.
It is also to our credit as a democracy that the government and mainstream media continue to condemn any manifestations of prejudice against Arabs, and that Arab citizens still enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens. Besides, the majority still insist that they harbor no prejudice against Arabs, and would oppose any form of discrimination against them.
Thus, when a number of unworldly rabbinical zealots made a deplorable call to Jews not to sell or rent apartments to Arabs on purportedly religious (not racist) grounds, the instantaneous condemnation by the government, media and other rabbis made it clear that such behavior runs counter to the will of the nation. On the other hand, it is preposterous to also describe as racist an admittedly crude call to young religious women not to indulge in interdenominational dating to avoid intermarriage.
THEN THERE is the issue of the African refugees. Our experience in having the world deny Jews a haven from Nazi persecution makes us extremely sensitive to the needs of all refugees. But the decision to limit the entry of potentially millions of African refugees while enabling the country to become a refuge for those that no other country is willing to accept is motivated not by racism but by a determination to survive as a Jewish state.
Besides, aside from having airlifted and absorbed an entire Ethiopian Jewish community many of whom were illiterate and living in the most primitive conditions, we have proportionately to our population unquestionably provided haven for more refugees than any other country in the world.
After all, Israel was founded by refugees from the Shoa, from Arab countries and other communities undergoing persecution.
Our deep-seated memory of the suffering of our forebears imposes on us an obligation to behave with greater compassion than any other nation.
We must impress upon our children that Judaism teaches all human being were created equal, and that no people are inherently evil or inferior. They should understand that radical Muslims have poisoned the minds of Arabs in the same way that the Nazis transformed the Germans into monsters.
They must be encouraged to extend a hand of friendship to Arab citizens who accept Israel as a Jewish state and seek to live in peace and tranquility among us.
We must also condemn the obscene manner in which our foes and many hypocritical liberals are employing Holocaust inversion to besmirch us as racists and accuse us of practicing apartheid, while closing their eyes to the culture of death, violence and bigotry perpetrated by our neighbors.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post