On June 26-28, activists from Sadaka-Reut toured Israel under the slogan “Fighting Racism – Resisting Segregation.” Over a hundred activists – youngsters and young adults, current and former participants in our programs, board members, facilitators and supporters – joined a three-day journey that visited different stops. At each stop, the participants joined with residents to speak out against racism in its local manifestations.
Over the past year, Israeli society has been flooded with manifestations of racism directed at numerous groups, including Palestinians, Ethiopians, refugees, asylum seekers and so forth. The current Knesset has adopted a hostile approach to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, promoting numerous racist bills and laws. The government and the Knesset are failing to oppose manifestations of racism and discrimination on the streets, in education systems and in sports grounds; indeed, they are supporting these phenomena. Unbridled incitement against Palestinians, refugees and migrant workers has become a public norm, and its ramifications are not hard to detect. At the same time, the government allocates resources in an unequal manner between different groups within Israeli society, thereby violating the rights of large sections of the public to housing, education, and health and welfare services. These and many other developments formed the background for our Journey against Racism.
Black and white should only be separated in the laundry!
Our activists began their journey in Kafr Qassem. We held a procession through the city center, and some 100 people held signs and posters opposing the racism within the city between black and white residents, and between those of Bedouin and Falahi (village) origin. Rachel from Netanya and Ahmad from Kafr Qassem prepared a poster bearing the slogan “Black and white should only be separated in the laundry,” which drew particular attention from passers-by. At the end of the procession, the activists reached city hall and met with the deputy mayor, who congratulated them on their campaign.
“Be true to who you are, and don’t change just in order to gain social acceptance” (Amaya Taga, a soccer player for Hapoel Ashkelon)
The next stop on our journey was Dora Community Center in Netanya, where a special encounter took place with the soccer player Amaya Taga, who used to play for Maccabi Netanya and now plays for Hapoel Ashkelon. Taga spoke honestly of his struggle against the serious racism he has faced since he immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia. His voice choked as he described the racism his five-year-old daughter has experienced in kindergarten. Taga, who decided five years ago to return to his original first name Amaya, instead of the name “Amir” that was given to him by the Interior Ministry officials when he arrived in Israel, conveyed a powerful and meaningful message to our activists. He urged them not to change who they are in order to gain social acceptance, but to be true to themselves and their identity. Speaking to a mainly young audience, he emphasized the importance of education and of making the most of one’s personal potential as a tool that can enable oppressed minorities – Arabs, Ethiopians and others – to advance in society.
We won’t be expelled again!
On the second day of our journey, the activists visited the Bustan neighborhood, which is part of the Silwan area of East Jerusalem. The activists came to show their solidarity with the local residents. Murad Shafa, the representative of the local committee, described the efforts that are being made to “Judaize” the neighborhood – the settlement built in the heart of the area, and the eviction orders that have been delivered to all the Palestinian residents. Shafa emphasized that the plan to expel them from their homes is just part of the racist policy of the government and the Jerusalem Municipality to expel Palestinians from the city in order to ensure a Jewish majority in the largest possible area. Shafa and other residents shared their personal stories with us, emphasized their commitment to the struggle to enable them to remain in their homes, on their land and in their homeland. They mentioned the lessons they have learned from the experiences of their grandparents and parents in 1948 and 1967, and declared that they will not permit themselves to be the victims of such a tragedy once again. The comments by the local representatives inspired all the participants in the journey to struggle against the racism faced by the residents and to oppose the violation of their rights.
We will not pledge loyalty to a state of racism!
The Knesset – demonstration against racist legislation
After our solidarity visit to Silwan, we continued to our next stop, where our message was directed at the nation’s decision makers and policy formers. Our demonstration focused on a series of racist laws that have recently been enacted by the Knesset, including the Nakba Law, the Loyalty Law, the Citizenship Law, and the Acceptance Committees Law. The participants shouted various slogans, such as “The people demand the expulsion of racism!” and “We will not pledge loyalty to a state of racism.” At the end of the demonstration, the participants symbolically voted “no confidence” in the current Knesset and released black balloons in the direction of the Knesset building.
Racism is bad for business
Jaffa – Bat Yam
The third and final day of our journey brought us to the streets of Jaffa and Bat Yam. The activists’ goal was to identify businesses that are free of racism and to give them certificates of appreciation. The activists spread out around the city and went into local shops, asking the owners whether they are willing to employ workers without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, nationality, or color and to serve customers from all sections of the population. This initiative came in response to racist initiatives that have recently been launched in Israel, in which certificates of honor have been given to Jewish businesses that pledge not to employ Arabs. The reactions to our campaign were mainly positive and enthusiastic. Many business owners proudly showed our certificates to passers-by, confirming their commitment to equality and respect for the other. The owner of one business in Jaffa explained that racism is bad for business, but it is also bad for individuals. Just as he opposes the racist policies directed against him by the government and the municipality, as an Arab, so he is not willing to be racist himself toward others. A Jewish business owner in Bat Yam congratulated the activists and told them about his own experiences, and those of his family, in Iraq. He described the positive and neighborly relations between Arabs and Jews there, and expressed his hope that such relations will also exist one day in Israel.
Each day of the journey ended with a fun evening activity celebrating the diversity and the common humanity of all the participants, and emphasizing both their diverse cultures and the common culture they are building through their joint values and struggles. On the first evening, each participant brought their favorite music and everyone danced together, creating a multicultural, multilingual and multinational event – and above all, one that was full of joy. On the second evening, the participants met with Saar Szekely, a participant in the recent season of the Big Brother reality TV program. Szekely gently and subtly managed to encourage public discussion of issues that do not usually receive exposure on prime time on Channel Two, such as racism and discrimination in Israeli society. He also encouraged renewed discussion of the question of the occupation and of Israel’s control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The participants were interested to hear Saar’s explanation of his own transformation – as an Ashkenazi Israeli man who does not face direct oppression by the establishment – into a person who struggles alongside all those who face oppression and discrimination.
For three days in June, the campaign bus became an island of sanity in a polarized and racist reality. The Sadaka-Reut activists provoked that it is possible to work together to fight racism and segregation, and that it is possible to build solidarity in place of hatred and fear. Our Journey against Racism has just begun. Over time, we hope that others will join us on our bus and in our journey, until we reach our destination: an egalitarian, just and respectful society.