In 1951, a black man was charged and convicted of assault with intent to rape, although he was 75 feet away from his alleged victim at the time of the "assault." This was only one of many instances in the Jim Crow era of the American South where accusations of "reckless eyeballing" of a white woman led to criminal charges or even the lynching of black men. Is the same now happening in israel?
Jim Crow in Bat Yam
Op-ed: Racist protest in Bat Yam advanced male supremacy alongside Jewish supremacy
Jessica Montell • Ynet
In 1951, a black man was charged and convicted of assault with intent to rape, although he was 75 feet away from his alleged victim at the time of the "assault." This was only one of many instances in the Jim Crow era of the American South where accusations of "reckless eyeballing" of a white woman led to criminal charges or even the lynching of black men.
That seems like a very long time ago in American history. But it doesn't seem so far from the reality we saw this week in Bat Yam.
About a week ago signs were hung up throughout the city calling on residents to come to a demonstration: "They're not going to hit on my sister! What would you do if an Arab hit on your sister? We're putting a stop to this!" This demonstration was part of a broader wave of racism that began a few weeks ago when several dozen municipal rabbis ruled that it was forbidden to rent apartments to Arabs.
The apartments issue was also part of the demonstration in Bat Yam, but most of the signs and speeches focused on the "danger" inherent in relations between Arab men and Jewish women. Some speakers railed against sexual harassment of Jewish women, others lectured against inter-ethnic dating. From a women's rights perspective, of course there is no connection between the two. But for the demonstrators, they are in fact the same thing. It seems a woman's free will is irrelevant.
Judging by the pictures in the press, the main sign at the demonstration declared: "Daughters of Israel for the People of Israel." It would appear that for the organizers of the demonstration, these are two mutually exclusive categories, with the former being some sort of property belonging to the latter. Women are analogous to the apartments that the Arabs are "trying to get"; women are also a possession that the Arabs covet.
And thus racism against Arabs also manifests as sexism toward Jewish women. This was certainly a racist demonstration, but it was also a demonstration to maintain male dominance. From the pictures in the press there were few if any women at the demonstration, but even if a few took part, the demonstration advances male supremacy alongside Jewish supremacy.
Exploiting sex card
This is not to say that sexual harassment is not a serious problem in Israeli society. Every woman in this country has suffered such harassment or knows a woman who has been harassed or assaulted, whether by Arab men or Jewish men. Such incidents are far too common in the workplace, in the military, on the street and in the home. Both the criminal justice system and society as a whole need to address this problem.
But this has nothing to do with the demonstration in Bat Yam. Just like white racist men in the Jim Crow south mobilized to protect "their women" when African Americans began demanding equality, so too Jewish extremists exploit the sex card in a backlash against Arab demands to be equal citizens in this country.
Many people justifiably expressed outrage at the racism of the demonstration, including Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahyani. "The city of Bat Yam denounces any racist phenomenon" Lahyani declared. "This is a democratic, law-abiding country. We reject this racism and these shameful statements." Such words are encouraging, as is the fact that only a small number of people took part in the racist demonstration, while opposite them Jews and Arabs demonstrated for full and equal citizenship.
But this is not enough. I was disappointed that no one pointed out the blatant male chauvinism of the demonstration. And just a few days after the Bat Yam demonstration, another news item shows the other side of the same coin: the police arrested a gang of Jewish youths, including a 14 year-old girl who lured Arab men to a Jerusalem park so that the gang could savagely beat them. Here again women – in this case a girl child – are used as sexual objects to advance racist schemes.
Anyone who cherishes basic values of justice and decency must work to combat the racism that seems to be spreading in Israeli society. But we can't do that by sweeping sexism under the rug. We have seen quite clearly this week that racism and sexism are inextricably linked. The fight against male chauvinism is important in its own right. It is also a crucial component in the broader fight for equality for all.
Jessica Montell is Executive Director of B'Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. http://twitter.com/#!/JessicaMontell