Getting Racism

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I learned about racism in my early twenties in two places - New York City and Israel.I was in New York City in 1968. While there, I met a young black man from the South. He was as smart as me and more talented, but he couldn't find a decent job. When we walked together, white people would always ask me for directions. They wouldn't even look at him. When he was arrested for possession of marijuana, his friends didn't come to me for bail. A white girl, they figured, was only interested in him for sex. The next year, as a visitor to Israel, I spent a lot of time in the Old City of Jerusalem and befriended an elderly Arab man. Someone we both knew was in a terrible accident and then hospitalized. My friend and I visited together, but had to get into the building through separate entrances. I was a newcomer. He had lived in this place for all his seventy years. Yet he got second-class treatment.True, there was no law in Israel that said Arabs had to sit at the back of the bus, but they always did. No Israelis would sit beside them. And this was before the days of suicide bombers. I didn't need a Palestinian to tell me that Israel practiced de facto apartheid. I saw it myself.Nowhere in all the coverage of the United Nations conference on racism is the issue of Israel's ethnic-based legal system discussed. There are different laws for Arabs and Jews who live in Israel. And the Palestinians were driven from their land when the Jews moved to Israel in their masses. Whether or not you consider the establishment of the state of Israel justified because of the Holocaust, the Palestinians were expelled by force from their homeland, through no fault of their own.I can move to Israel any time I want, because I was born Jewish. If you weren't, you are not welcome in the same way.Israel does practice state-sanctioned ethnic discrimination, but then so do many other states. Are Israel's crimes against the Palestinians worse than the crimes of the Indonesian regime against the Timorese; or the Chinese against the Tibetans; or the Serbs against Moslems?Singling out Israel was a serious mistake for those genuinely interested in combating racism, ethnic violence and intolerance. But I can understand the frustration that lead to this position.Many white people can understand the horror of the Holocaust and forgive Israel almost anything to make up for the slaughter and torture of Jews during the Second World War. Yet they cannot understand the suffering of the Palestinian people, who were removed from their land. They refuse to relate to the demand for reparation from an entire race of people who were treated worse than animals through slavery. They do not recognize that racism remains central to the policies imposed on Aboriginal people even today.It is racism that permits this differential empathy. Racism is a system of domination of one people over others because of skin colour. White people dominate the world. They have most of the wealth and almost all the power. The idea that the white race is better than others provided a major ideological underpinning of economic and social domination created through slavery, colonialism and imperialism.Years ago, as a young Jew, I was heartsick from my visit to Israel. For me, Jewish tradition was about being an oppressed people who fought against injustice. But in Israel, Jews turned into the oppressors. "Never Again" many people said - as though the treatment of Palestinians didn't count, and all that mattered was to make sure Jewish Israelis were no longer victimized. I didn't buy this reasoning then, and I don't buy it now.The patterns of racism run deep and can be subtle. I look forward to the day when we all say "Never Again" - to racism in its entirety.

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