Tag Archives: immigrant

An Illness Within.

My latest in Haaretz. A look at the importance of language and metaphors in the recent anti-immigrant rhetoric in Israel. Sometimes (if I may paraphrase Nietzsche), one needs to opine with a hammer.

On the day that the first, and highly publicized “repatriation” of South Sudanese migrants begins, we need to look again at the rhetoric employed by Israeli politicians and broadcasters towards those seeking refuge and a better life in Israel.

The incitements that lead to the anti-immigrant riot of March 23 by Israeli politicians Miri Regev, Danny Danon, and Michael Ben-Ari have rightly shocked people of good conscience. Many have asked how, after all, can politicians representing the state of Israel call people living in its midst a “cancer in our body” and a “national plague”? However, a poll taken shortly after the incident (by the Israel Democracy Institute) has shown that 53 percent of Israelis identify with those statements and 33 percent of Jews (along with 23 percent of Arabs) supported the acts of violence against African immigrants.

More recently, media personality and Army Radio talk-show host Avri Gilad said the migrants who enter Israel are a threat by virtue of being Muslims; which according to him is “the most terrible disease raging around the world.” He further explained that even though many of them are moderate, they carry a “virus” that can “explode” at any moment.

To understand the seriousness of Regev, Danon and Gilad’s statements we only have to mine history for the way in which Jews and others have been on the wrong end of similar pronouncements. Almost every genocide in recorded history has been preceded by the instrumental use of language to dehumanize and demonize a particular population – not least the Holocaust, but also Rwanda and Cambodia at the time of the Khmer Rouge. In other words, language – particularly the use of metaphors – matters. Continue reading

“Dirty Israeli from Hadera!”

Next month I am starting a new column over at Jewcy which will center on the experience of Israelis living in the United States. In preparation, I have been reflecting on my own experiences in the diaspora. Yesterday, to my surprise, an old memory bubbled-up to the surface of my consciousness.

In 1985, seeking economic opportunity my father moved our family from Israel to San Antonio Texas. I was nine years old at the time. I knew no English (other than “hello”, “goodbye”, “Miss Piggy”, and “shut up”) and I was confidant that the IDF could kick America’s ass.

A few years into our stay, my father took us out for a boat ride on a lake. When lunch time came I was horrified to find out that my sandwich was coated with mustered. I protested (loudly and repeatedly) that I had specifically asked for a sandwich without mustered. Whereby my father looked at me with frustration, snatched the sandwich from my hand, and threw it out into the lake.

Embarrassed and angered, I looked around to make sure nobody saw what had happened. When the cost was clear, I gaped at my stern old-man and cried:

“How could you do that? You dirty Israeli from Hadera! How could you do that?”

Not able to comprehend what they just heard, my mother and father looked at me with blank cow-like stares. As if it was not enough that the words “dirty Israeli” flowed effortlessly from my mouth, I had also inserted some Israeli socio-economic class discrimination for good measure. Was a dirty Israeli from Tel-Aviv superior to one from Hadera?

After the initial shock wore off, my mother began to laugh, while my father, visibly hurt by my words, intimated that if I continue to talk like that I would soon be reunited with my mustered-laden sandwich.

Years have passed since the sandwich incident (a classic inter-generational immigrant moment if there ever was one.) As a teenager I had returned to live in Israel, and in my twenties I moved back to the US. I have thankfully outgrown some of those early complexes, but the subject of Israelis living abroad (especially the US) still fascinates me.

Look out for my new Jewcy column starting in September.