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April 24, 2019

From Detroit to Israel

Reuel S. Amdur

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It was either in 1962 or 1963. I was fresh out of graduate school in my first social work job, at Brightmoor Community Center in Detroit. In those times racial conflict was never far from mind. At Brightmoor, we received a post card inviting us to send someone to a meeting, clearly a meeting to prevent black people from moving into white neighborhoods. Of course, nothing that crude was said openly. I was assigned to go.

The meeting was, naturally, lily-white.  I showed the post card and entered the hall.  The main event was a brief speech by some guy about preservation of neighborhoods and strong communities.  Race was not mentioned.  When he finished, the chairman of the meeting invited the audience to rise and give him a hearty applause.  Two of us remained seated—me and a guy who turned out to be from the Anti-Defamation League.  At the time, the ADL was actively fighting against segregation in cities.  There were restrictive covenants that were attached to deeds, covenants which in some cases forbade sales to various ethnicities, primarily blacks but often Jews as well.  Enforcement of such covenants was only finally made illegal in 1968.

When we failed to rise to applaud the speaker, someone from the organizing body came by to see our postcards, which he confiscated.  Clearly, we would not be invited back.  As two outcasts, we chatted together.  Our man from the ADL was interested in knowing just who was into this genteel bigotry, and seeing some petition promoting the position of the group sitting unattended on a table, he pocketed it.  Someone from the organizing group told me that the meeting was just held to defend our right to choose our neighbors.

Fast forward to today, but Israel, not Detroit.  One of the current arguments that Zionists and Israel supporters make is that Israel is being held to a higher standard than other countries.  This, it is argued, shows that the critics are anti-Semites.  Such is the current mantra, replacing the previous claim that Israel was to be a light unto the nations.

What would my erstwhile friend from the Anti-Defamation League have to say about the Israeli law allowing small communities to choose their neighbors?  You don’t have to guess who is not chosen.  Then there is the command by a group of rabbis forbidding the faithful from selling or renting homes to Palestinians, under threat of ostracism.

There are many other examples of treatment of Palestinians that suggest that standards of decency expected of nations are under attack in Israel, in ways that would not be beyond criticism should other countries treat their minorities similarly.  In the Occupied West Bank, it frequently occurs that settler-colonizers attempt to attack children going to and coming from school.  One is reminded of Kristallnacht, the1938 night of destruction of Jewish property and the imprisonment and killing of Jews in Nazi Germany.  Some of the thugs attacked a Jewish children’s hospital.  Children.  How many of the settler-colonizer thugs have been arrested, tried, and convicted?

On another matter, one expects countries to state their boundaries.  This is another standard that Israel violates.  While the world refers to the West Bank as occupied, Israel and its apologists call it “disputed.”  We have seen German and Japanese occupations eventually ended after World War II.  Over 50 years of occupation of the West Bank shows no sign of ending, ever.

The rate of anti-Arab prejudice in Israel is very high.  Last December, the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research carried out a survey which found that most Israeli Jews would object to their children having Arab friends, with 80% against a daughter being the friend of an Arab boy.  There is an organization that actively intimidates Jewish-Arab couples, to “save” Jewish women. 

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, openly appeals to anti-Arab bigotry to forward his political ends.  During an election, he hysterically warned that the Arabs were heading to the polls in droves, being brought by NGO’s.  This was racist rhetoric, and it was also a lie.

Does criticism of such Israeli behavior go beyond what critics might say of other countries who would behave in similar fashion?  What should be the standard used in judging Israeli behavior?   Perhaps her treatment of her Arab minority might be compared to that of the Mississippi of the 1940’s of its blacks.

Truly, Israel is not a light unto the nations.

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