Eddie Zhensker. (HaAretz)
The Gideon Levy’s article “We all are Miri Regev” (Haaretz, 22.12.13) stroke with astonishment the Russian-speaking community in Israel. Some people read it in the newspaper, the others found the article in social networks where it appeared immediately. In honest, it’s a considerable journalistic achievement by Levy. The community so much divided and splitted responded almost unanimously, and the response was that of surprise and indignation. The central (focal) idea of the article, regarding the racism of the Israeli society towards refugees from Africa, roused quite foreseeable (predictable) reactions of approval from some of Russian-speakers and of reservation from the others. But one phrase in the article resulted in unprecedented unity of this sector. In order to strengthen his thesis about the racist tendency of the Israeli society to reject the African refugees because of their skin-color, Levy deemed it his duty to tell: “A million immigrants from Russia, a third of them non-Jews, some of whom were also found to have a degree of alcohol and crime in their blood, were not a problem”. Neither more nor less. Blood. Alcohol. Criminality. The set of stereotypes and stigmas of the lowest order.
The most appealing thing in all this mess was the mobilization of the racist notions for the sake of resisting and condemning racism. Many were shocked by such a use of brute and coarse prejudices the Russian-speakers have for a long time struggled against, and with considerable success. Not less striking was the fact that these statement came from the pages of “Haaretz”. We, the members of “Morashtenu” Association that strives for advancing the values of peace and democracy among the Russian-speakers in Israel, always considered this newspaper as a model in our campaigns against racist utterances and hate speech in the Russian-language media. All the more were we disappointed by the fact that these lines from the Gideon Levy’s article reached the audience. Let’s only imagine what would happen if such or similar definitions were attached to Israeli Arabs, “which carry in their blood…”
It was almost sad to see how easy it was to unite our community with one stroke of the pen. After 20 years of its existence this community is famous for the heterogeneity and divisions, sometimes loaded by internal hostility, between leftists and rightists, between youngsters and adults, between those who feel themselves complete Israelis and those striving to preserve their “Russian” identity. There is one undisputable thing: it is hard to be “leftist Russian” and it is hard to hold on liberal views in this ideologically committed environment. Therefore it was especially disappointing to see that these scandalous statements by Levy remained “Russian business” only. The “old-timers” audience, those reading “Haaretz” and discussing it in social networks, did not respond at all. And again the question arises, what would be the attitude of this audience if such low-grade stereotypes were applied to Palestinians, for example.
And yet, we are not in need for protection. On the contrary. We are strong enough and our democratic world-view is mature enough, so that we are able to go together with Levy in his struggle against racism and for the rights of refugees. Still his racist arguments concerning the “Russians” make it more difficult for us to implement this natural treaty. The recent days proved it very well. Our community, with all its heterogeneity and internal differences, achieved definite status in the Israeli society. And suddenly we were thrown back, to our most basic common denominator: a group of new immigrants being an object of negative collective stereotypes. Just that feeling stimulated the violent reaction for the Levy’s article. Both those who were surprised and those who commented: “We told you beforehand what they think of us”, united in stormy responses in social networks, and, after all, joined the petition initiated by “Morashtenu”. This time it was not difficult to get signatures from the people who by no means were traditional supporters of our organization. The main demand of this petition is apologies from the newspaper and from Levy himself. We have gathered hundreds of signatures already. But the apologies are something that goes without saying. The ultimate goal is the prevention of similar phenomena in the future.
The author is the executive director of the “Morashtenu” Association.