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Media Silence on Israeli Segregationism?


Trent Lott’s recent and now-infamous faux pas precipitated an avalanche of media editorials, mostly calling on him to resign his post as U.S. senate majority leader. Lott’s statement that the country would have been better off if U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond’s segregationist Dixiecrat candidacy in the 1948 presidential race had succeeded was deemed evidence of his failure to shed deep-rooted racist sentiments. His attitude was widely described as intolerable.

In the immediate aftermath of Lott’s gaffe, questions swirled about whether he had said what he meant or meant what he said. Those questions were quickly swept aside and replaced by near-unanimous editorial assertions that all manifestations of racism are to be condemned. But when editors of American newspapers correctly posit, as some have, that discrimination, bigotry and intolerance deserve to be condemned wherever they are found, it is fair to question whether they really mean what they say.

It is an article of faith for most Americans that discrimination, bigotry and intolerance should be condemned, whether practiced by individuals, groups, organizations, or states. It is held with equal conviction that condemnation is not only appropriate for discrimination and intolerance based on skin color, but also when the differentiator is sex, ethnicity, religion, or whatever else sets human beings apart from each other. But do we indeed condemn discrimination and bigotry wherever they are found?

On March 4th, 2002, the U.S. Department of State released its latest report on human rights practices in Israel and the occupied territories. The report in its entirety is available on the state department’s web site. It states that the Government of Israel has made little headway in reducing institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens, who constitute approximately 20 percent of the population but do not share fully the rights provided to, and obligations imposed on, the country’s Jewish citizens. Among the report’s specific examples:

* Under Israel’s Law of Return, automatic citizenship and residence rights are granted to Jewish immigrants and their families, but not to Christians, Muslims or other non-Jews.

* The Government provides proportionally greater financial support to institutions in the Jewish sector compared with those in the Muslim, Christian and Druze sectors. . A Ministry of Education special program to provide academic assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds is available only to Jewish students. Muslims and Christians do not qualify. The 2002 budget did not contain provisions to equalize spending on Jewish and non-Jewish special education.

* The Government has not allocated sufficient resources or taken adequate measures to provide Israeli Christians, Muslims and Druze with the same quality of housing and social services, as well as the same opportunities for government employment, as Jews.

* On a per capita basis, the Government spends two-thirds as much for Christians, Muslims and Druze as for Jews.

* A ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice found the Government’s use of the Jewish National Fund for development of public land to be discriminatory, since the fund’s by-laws prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews.

* Christians and Muslims are barred from military service. Many employers, including municipalities, advertise “military service” as a prerequisite for job applicants, even for parking lot attendants.

* Foreign workers are barred from obtaining permanent residence status unless they are Jewish.

* When a group of approximately 1,000 Israeli Jews attacked non-Jewish homes in Nazareth, Israeli police inserted themselves between the two groups and fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas at the Arab citizens.

* During demonstrations and riots in October 2000, Israeli police snipers used live ammunition against unarmed Arab demonstrators, killing 13 non-Jewish citizens of the state.

Mainstream American media editorials ignore the picture of pervasive discrimination painted by the U.S. State Department report, preferring instead to laud Israel for its “shared values” with America. They abstain from condemning the Government of Israel for practices that even Israel’s High Court of Justice considers discriminatory. It cannot be that racial discrimination is abhorrent only when it rears its ugly head in America, but is a phenomenon to be supported with annual billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars when practiced by our allies on the other side of the globe.

Selective application of any principle is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy negates credibility. The cacophony of American voices denouncing Trent Lott for his transgressions rose inexorably, until he became the first senate majority leader forced to resign his post. The editorial silence on Israel’s endemic racial transgressions is no less deafening.

TARIF ABBOUSHI lives in Houston, Texas. He can be reached at:


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