While Netanyahu sought to build his new coalition government signs of long festering racism brought out some of the worst features in Israeli society. It showed itself most clearly in at least two very real deep-seeded prejudices, which ought to be very troubling. They suggest that while in respect to democratic values Israel may be far ahead of its neighbors, it is still a country where democracy is still in a classical internal struggle.
The demonstrations and subsequent beatings by Israeli police of Ethiopian Jews were extremely ugly. The unnecessary use of force by the police was bad enough but the inability of Israeli leaders to place the blame where it belonged was unconscionable. Jews who came from Middle Eastern countries never were totally comfortable with both Africans as well as Arabs. They feared Muslims and the unknown. As a result they developed a truly irrational attitude toward them. The behavior of the police with at least tacit support from Middle Eastern Jews–as well as the Russian Jewish population– undermined any serious efforts to address the demands and needs of many of the Ethiopian Jews. If this community had a true political leader, the Government, the police, and the public would be far more concerned about the societal implications of what is transpiring. (One need only recall the rise of the Black Panther Movement in Israel in the 1970’s to remember what could develop.)
As if this element of prejudice were not bad enough, the appointment, apparently, of Ayelet Shaked to be the new Minister of Justice has drawn an array of very ugly sexist remarks about her. The attacks were not against some of her policy views–which are open to serious discussion and objections–but to her physical looks. Never would a male politician be skewered, embarrassed or abused by other politicians because of his appearances. Shaked now has received wide spread support from women of all political persuasions, but not much rebuttal from many of the male leaders of HaBayit HaYehudi –her own party—or from the coalition leaders in Likud. She is not a shrinking violet by any means and the unprecedented chauvinistic attack against her is only a further example of the need for Israel to address some of the underlying prejudices which continued to be winked at by its leaders.
Prejudices against Arabs are well known even before Bibi’s outburst on Election Day. One only wonders what level of prejudice is festering within the political establishment against the growing LGBT community. Undoubtedly, if the current intolerance persists, it could cause huge problems within Israeli democracy.