Fighting Discrimination Against Israeli Arabs is Personal

Today Haaretz ran a story in which a racist incident against an Israeli Arab couple was addressed.

According to the article:

“A popular restaurant in Rishon Letzion has been accused of racism after an Arab couple claimed last week they had been denied reservations when using their real names, but were able to book after calling back and using Jewish names.”

This story really hit home for a number of reasons, first and foremost because I have heard of similar accounts before. I have no reason to doubt its validity.

I have had Israeli Arab friends who have told me how hard it is for them to find housing. When answering newspaper ads for room rentals, I have been told on more than one occasion that the phone has been slammed down on them as soon as they gave their Arab name.

Such stories also hurt because I used to be the minority, like them.

I come from a lucky generation of Iranian Jews who suffered little to no racism.

But my father and grandparents were not so lucky. My family is from the city of Esfahan where the Jews 50 years ago faced great racism. Just the name of the neighboring city of Najafabad sends shivers down the spine of my father. When he was a child, antisemitic clerics from Najafabad used to come to Esfahan and on numerous occasions they gave antisemitic sermons, which charged up the crowd in the mosques. Soon afterwards they would attack the Jewish quarters of Esfahan and beat any Jew they could find to a pulp.

The worst form of racism is physical attacks. But one can not discount the great suffering and damage which the non physical form of racism can cause as well. I would hate to feel that in my own country I am not wanted by some because of my name and race.

What makes Israel a superpower is not just its army, it’s the belief of its citizens in the country. This is why I came here. I look around me and I see the most successful countries are those where the minorities are treated well. When the minority suffer, ultimately sooner or later the majority will suffer as well. The opposite is also true.

So when I hear stories of racism against my Israeli Arab compatriots, all I can see and think about are my own family in Esfahan as they used to be the minority as well and were subject to racism by some. Now that I belong to the powerful majority, I would be damned if I let the same happen to our minorities.

There is no better promotion of the state of Israel than its Arab citizens feeling proud of being Israeli and equal to their Jewish compatriots. Our democracy has paved the way for this to happen, now we just have to fight the obstacle of racism.