[Marxism] Israeli teenagers: Racist and proud of it

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 24 07:21:32 MDT 2014

Haaretz August 23, 2014

Israeli teenagers: Racist and proud of it
Ethnic hatred has become a basic element in the everyday life of Israeli 
youth, a forthcoming book finds.

By Or Kashti

“For me, personally, Arabs are something I can’t look at and can’t 
stand,” a 10th-grade girl from a high school in the central part of the 
country says in abominable Hebrew. “I am tremendously racist. I come 
from a racist home. If I get the chance in the army to shoot one of 
them, I won’t think twice. I’m ready to kill someone with my hands, and 
it’s an Arab. In my education I learned that ... their education is to 
be terrorists, and there is no belief in them. I live in an area of 
Arabs, and every day I see these Ishmaelites, who pass by the [bus] 
station and whistle. I wish them death.”

The student’s comments appear in a chapter devoted to ethnicity and 
racism among youth from a forthcoming book, “Scenes from School Life” 
(in Hebrew) by Idan Yaron and Yoram Harpaz. The book is based on 
anthropological observations made by Dr. Yaron, a sociologist, over the 
course of three years in a six-year, secular high school in the Israeli 
heartland – “the most average school we could find,” says Harpaz, a 
professor of education.

The book is nothing short of a page-turner, especially now, following 
the overt displays of racism and hatred of the Other that have been 
revealed in the country in the past month or so. Maybe “revealed” isn’t 
the right word, as it suggests surprise at the intensity of the 
phenomenon. But Yaron’s descriptions of what he saw at the school show 
that such hatred is a basic everyday element among youth, and a key 
component of their identity. Yaron portrays the hatred without 
rose-colored glasses or any attempt to present it as a sign of social 
“unity.” What he observed is unfiltered hatred. One conclusion that 
arises from the text is how little the education system is able – or 
wants – to deal with the racism problem.

Not all educators are indifferent or ineffective. There are, of course, 
teachers and others in the realm of education who adopt a different 
approach, who dare to try and take on the system. But they are a 
minority. The system’s internal logic operates differently.

Much of the chapter on racism revolves around the Bible lessons in a 
ninth-grade class, whose theme was revenge. “The class starts, and the 
students’ suggestions of examples of revenge are written on the 
blackboard,” the teacher told Yaron. A student named Yoav “insists that 
revenge is an important emotion. He utilizes the material being studied 
to hammer home his semi-covert message: All the Arabs should be killed. 
The class goes into an uproar. Five students agree with Yoav and say 
openly: The Arabs should be killed.”

One student relates that he heard in the synagogue on Shabbat that 
“Aravim zeh erev rav” [“Arabs are a rabble,” in a play on words], and 
also Amalek, and there is a commandment to kill them all,” a reference 
to the prototypical biblical enemy of the Children of Israel. Another 
student says he would take revenge on anyone who murdered his family, 
but would not kill them all.

“Some of the other students are outraged by this [softer stance],” the 
teacher reported. “The student then makes it clear that he has no love 
for Arabs and that he is not a leftist.”

Another student, Michal, says she is shocked by what she is hearing. She 
believes that the desire for revenge will only foment a cycle of blood; 
not all Arabs are bad, she adds, and certainly they don’t all deserve to 
die. “People who decree the fate of others so easily are not worthy of 
life,” she says.

Yoav himself claims to have heard Michal say: “Too bad you weren’t 
killed in a terrorist attack.”

“The students all start shouting,” the teacher says, according to Yaron. 
“Some are personally insulted, others are up in arms, and Michal finds 
herself alone and absorbing all the fire – ‘Arab lover,’ ‘leftist.’ I 
try to calm things down. The class is too distraught to move on to the 
biblical story. The bell rings. I let them out and suggest that they be 
more tolerant of one another.”

In the corridor during the break, the teacher notices that a crowd has 
gathered from all the ninth-grade classes. They have formed a human 
chain and are taunting Michal: “Fie, fie, fie, the Arabs will die.” The 
teacher: “I contemplated for five seconds whether to respond or keep 
going down the corridor. Finally I dispersed the gathering and insisted 
that Michal accompany me to the teachers’ room. She was in a state of 
shock, reeling under the insult, with tears to come instantly.”

Six students are suspended for two days. The teacher reports on his 
conversation with Michal: “She continues to be laconic. This is what 
always happens, she says. The opinions are racist, and her only regret 
is speaking out. I just want to hug her and say I’m sorry I put her 
through this trauma. I envy her courage to say aloud things that I 
sometimes am incapable of saying.”

Leftists as ‘Israel-haters’

In his research, Yaron spoke with Michal and Yoav, with other students 
in the class and with the homeroom teacher and the principal. The 
multiplicity of versions of the goings-on that emerge suggest a deep 
conflict and a lack of trust between the educators and the pupils. Each 
world functions separately, with the adults exercising little if any 
influence on the youngsters. It’s hard to believe that the suspension, 
or the punishment inflicted on some of the students – for example, to 
prepare a presentation for the ninth-grade classes on the subject of 
racism – changed anyone’s opinion.

The same goes for the principal’s unequivocal declaration that, “There 
will be no racist comments in our school.” Even the essay Michal was 
asked to write on the subject was soon forgotten. “The intention was to 
launch an educational program, but in the meantime it was postponed,” 
the homeroom teacher admits.

A year later, however, the incident itself was still remembered in the 
school. The same student who told Yaron that she won’t think twice if 
she gets the opportunity “to shoot one of them” when she serves in the 
army, also said, “As soon as I heard about the quarrel with that leftist 
girl [Michal], I was ready to throw a brick at her head and kill her. In 
my opinion, all the leftists are Israel-haters. I personally find it 
very painful. Those people have no place in our country – both the Arabs 
and the leftists.”

Anyone who imagines this as a local, passing outburst is wrong. As was 
the case with the girl from the ORT network vocational school who 
alleged earlier this year that her teacher had expressed “left-wing 
views” in the classroom – in this case too a student related that he 
cursed and shouted at a teacher who “justified the Arabs.” The students 
say that workshops to combat racism, which are run by an outside 
organization, leave little impression. “Racism is part of our life, no 
matter how much people say it’s bad,” a student said.

In the concluding discussion in just one such workshop, the moderator 
asked the students how they thought racism might eradicated. “Thin out 
the Arabs,” was the immediate reply. “I want you to leave here with the 
knowledge that the phenomenon exists, for you to be self-critical, and 
then maybe you will prevent it,” the moderator said. To which one 
student shot back, “If we’re not racist, that makes us leftists.”

The moderator, in a tone of despair: “I’d like it if you took at least 
something small from this workshop.” A student responds to the 
challenge: “That everyone should live the way he wants, that if he 
thinks he’s racist, let him think what he wants, and that’s all.”

As an adjunct of racism and hatred, ethnic identities – Mizrahi (Jews 
from Middle Eastern and North African countries) and Ashkenazi – are 
also flourishing. Yoav believes that there is “discrimination between 
Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. We were severely punished for the incident 
[with Michal], but if it were the other way around, that wouldn’t have 
happened.” Yoav later told Yaron that he found the common saying, 
“What’s this, an [open-air] market?” offensive, because his whole family 
works in the local produce market.

“Our business has existed since the state was established,” he said. “I 
am proud of my father, who is a man of the market. What are they trying 
to say, that my father isn’t cultured? When people say something about 
‘Arabs,’ it’s considered a generalization, but when they say ‘market,’ 
that’s alright. When people say ‘market,’ they are actually talking 
about Mizrahim. We need to change the prejudices about the market and 
about the Mizrahim. People say I am a racist, but it’s just the opposite.”

“There is no discussion about the topic of racism in the school and 
there probably will not be,” the principal admits. “We are not prepared 
for the deep, long-term process that’s necessary. Even though I am 
constantly aware of the problem, it is far from being dealt with. It 
stems in the first place from the home, the community and the society, 
and it’s hard for us to cope with it. You have to remember that another 
reason it’s hard to deal with the problem is that it also exists among 
the teachers. Issues such as ‘human dignity’ or ‘humanism’ are in any 
case considered left-wing, and anyone who addresses them is considered 

Threat of noise

Prof. Yoram Harpaz is a senior lecturer at Beit Berl Teachers College 
and the editor of Hed Hahinuch, a major educational journal. Recalling 
the recent promise of Education Minister Shay Piron that classes in the 
first two weeks of the coming school year will be devoted to “emotional 
and social aspects of the summer’s events,” including “manifestations of 
racism and incitement,” Harpaz observes that schools in their present 
format “are incapable of dealing with the racist personality and identity.”

He adds: “The schools are not geared for this. They can only impart 
basic knowledge and skills, hold examinations on them and grade the 
students. In fact, they have a hard time doing even that. In classes of 
40 students, with a strict curriculum and exams that have to be held, it 
is impossible to engage in values-based education.”

Yaron, a senior lecturer in sociology at Ashkelon Academic College, 
emphasizes how important teachers and the principal (and the education 
system in general) feel it is to stick to the curriculum and the lessons 
schedule – two islands of quiet amid a risk-laden reality.

“Doing this makes it possible for the teachers not to enter a dynamic 
sphere, which obligates openness and is liable to open a Pandora’s box, 
too,” he notes. “The greatest threat to the teacher is that there will 
be noise – that someone will complain, that an argument will break out, 
etc. That danger looms especially large in subjects that interest young 
people, such as sexuality, ethnicity, violence and racism. Teachers lack 
the tools to cope with these issues, so they are outsourced, which only 
emasculates educational personnel even more.”

The demand for quiet in the schools is not only an instrumental matter, 
deriving from the difficulty of keeping order in the classroom. There is 
also an ideological aspect involved. In general, there is a whole series 
of subjects that are not recommended for discussion in schools, such as 
the Nakba (or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to denote the 
establishment of the State of Israel), human rights and the morality of 
Israeli army operations. This was one of the reasons for the warnings 
issued by Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev 
during the fighting in the Gaza Strip about “extreme and offensive remarks.”

Harpaz: “In Israel, the most political country there is, political 
education has not been developed as a discipline in which high-school 
students are taught how to think critically about political attitudes, 
or the fact that those attitudes are always dependent on a particular 
viewpoint and on vested interests.”

What, then, can be done? According to Harpaz, the solution will not be 
found in discussions between the homeroom teacher and the students. Nor 
is a condemnation, however late, by the education minister sufficient. A 
more radical change is needed.

“Values and outlooks are acquired in a lengthy process of identification 
with ‘significant others,’ such as teachers,” Harpaz explains. “This 
means that every aspect of the schools – patterns of teaching, 
evaluation methods, curricula, the physical structure and the cultural 
climate – has to change in the direction of becoming far more dialogical 
and democratic.”

And he has one more recommendation: not to flee from political and moral 
dilemmas, or from possible criticism. “Our leaders are so fearful of 
criticism, but they don’t understand that critical education is what 
generates close ties and caring. We get angry at those we love.”

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