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Red Rag column
Red Rag
By: Gideon Spiro
5 May 2010

The Left and the Burqa

Belgium is the first country whose parliament has passed a bill barring women from publicly to wearing the burqa, a garment that covers the entire body including the face. Discussions are being held in the French parliament for the enacting of a similar law. Knesset Member Marina Solodkin of the Kadima faction has announced her intention to propose an Israeli burqa law in the Knesset. This subject has aroused a lively debate on the left-wing scene, and astonishingly, it appears that the more the speakers see themselves as leftist, the more they dissociate themselves from the legislation, in the name of lofty principles such as the right of the individual to dress how they want, and respect for the culture of the Other. And some see it as a manifestation of Islamophobia.

I would like to propose a different left-wing approach. Since the dawn of its existence the Left has raised the banner of equal rights for women, and that is no coincidence. Women have been discriminated against, and in many countries that is still the case. For that reason a leftist worthy of the name must be a participant in every struggle for the liberation of women from fetters and discrimination that governments or cultures impose on them. Not for nothing do feminist Arab women struggle against the burqa, against laws that permit men to marry multiple wives and against female circumcision. Respect for the culture of the Other does not include agreeing with enslavement and injustice. There are societies and cultures in which people with homosexual tendencies are burned on a pyre. Can a person of the Left agree to that?

The burqa equals the erasure of the identity of the woman and her conversion into a sexual object. I do not know if legislation is the appropriate means to eliminate that custom, but the struggle against what that garment represents is an appropriate one.

Activism against customs that are accepted in Muslim societies is not always Islamophobia, just as activism against inappropriate customs in Judaism does not express anti-Semitism.

I am quite sure that MK Solodkin is not motivated by a desire to struggle for the equality of Arab citizens in Israel and it is therefore legitimate to challenge her in that regard. But the fact that her motivations are not pure does not mean that the burqa is something that should be supported.

The beginning of change?

The fifth annual Review Conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is currently taking place in New York.
There are signs that President Obama is prepared to re-examine the USA’s policy on Israel’s nuclear armament and to act for the establishment of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.

Official Israel, fearful that its dangerous toy may be taken away, sees this as a disaster. The Establishment media is acting as a loudspeaker for the government approach and is silencing voices that oppose nuclear weapons.

Whereas in Israel I can barely find a stage in the Establishment media to challenge the government’s position, that is not the case in the rest of the world. There my position is given an attentive hearing. In the last thirty years I have appeared on many stages in five continents, in media, academia, parliaments and human rights organizations, and have sent memoranda to heads of state. My comrades in the struggle have done likewise, and the message is getting through.

President Obama is starting to understand that a nuclear Middle East is a dangerous Middle East, and that it is impossible to achieve a disarmed Middle East while winking at Israel’s policy of nuclear “ambiguity”. To continue to turn a blind eye to Israel will engender more and more nuclear states. Apparently Obama’s nightmare scenario is a Middle East armed to the teeth with nuclear bombs, one of which could slip into the hands of a terrorist organization.

It is a matter of at least as much urgency to deal with a nuclear Israel, which is ruled by trigger-happy state terrorists, as it is to deal with Iran. The road to a nuclear-disarmed Iran goes through a nuclear-disarmed Israel. I hope that it is becoming increasingly clear in the White House in Washington, as well as in the capitals of Europe, that an Israel armed with hundreds of atomic and hydrogen bombs is going from being an asset to a liability. If Israel’s disaster-laden war plans against Iran are not stopped, it will turn into a nuisance that will threaten the peace of the world.

The US government has come to the understanding that the public’s right to know is stronger than military secrets, and accordingly, the American Secretary of State disclosed the number of nuclear bombs in the USA’s possession: 5,113. That is fitting. Mordechai Vanunu preceded her by 24 years. The time has come to put a stop to the fraud of “ambiguity” and to expose all the facts. Only thus can a reasonable public discussion be held.

In any case, for many years now I have not felt bound to keep secrets that contain within themselves the destruction of Israel. The reactor at Dimona must be dismantled and sealed and the entire Middle East must be placed under a regime of international transparent international inspection.

On the nuclear issue I say, go for it, Obama! – in the hope that he will not stop half-way.

And let us not forget: certain settlers, twins of the racists of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), announced that on Lag BaOmer [1] they would burn images of President Obama. One of them could be a sailor on the crew of an Israeli submarine that is carrying nuclear missiles. Just a reminder of what country we are living in.

A quarrel between racists

Emmanuel is a Haredi settlement with about 3,000 residents. Tempers have been flaring there recently. Parents of Ashkenazi schoolgirls are objecting to their daughters’ studying in the same school with Mizrahi girls. Intolerable racism, cry the newspaper headlines. The struggle crossed the Green Line from the Occupied Territories to within the borders of the State of Israel and went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ordered that the segregation be stopped. So far that has not helped.

A jest of fate: the Haredi settlers, both Mizrahis and Ashkenazis, are partners in the regime of Occupation and apartheid, sitting on stolen and plundered Palestinian land, and are drenched in racism against Arabs. Israeli society can digest this rotten food without any difficulty. But when those racists deploy their in internal Israeli struggles, the Israeli hypocrites raise the cry out in righteous anger: Jewish racism against Jews? Polish Jews against Moroccan Jews? Oh, the horror!

The truth is that conflict between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi racists, ugly and repulsive as it is, is not surprising in a society one of the foundations of the existence of which is racism. The moral weight of the Supreme Court rulings that condemn internal Haredi racism is zero, because that same court endorses racism against Arabs.

The racism of Israeli society is also directed against those who come here to visit. Recently a group of priests from Ecuador arrived in Israel on a visit. They came as friends of Israel and they wanted to return to their country as ambassadors for Israel. But this is Israel, and racism is ingrained in the border police. The police and ISA (Shin Bet) officers who stand guard at the gates of Israel in civilian clothes, divided the group at the airport: the white priests were allowed to enter and the black ones were delayed and questioned as “security risks” and their passports were confiscated. Thus were friends of Israel converted into enemies.

The struggle against racism is meaningful only if it is transcends national, ethnic, gender, communal and religious borders. The authorities in Israel do not yet understood that.

I have written more than once that Israeli racism does not stop at the Green Line; it seeps into all strata of Israeli society. We have recently learned that a kindergarten in Beersheba is setting up two entrances, one for black children from Ethiopia and the other one for white children. Mississippi of the 1950s still exists, in 21st-century Israel.

The Jews of Ethiopia feel the racism of Israel in their flesh every day, which does not prevent many of them from joining the Occupation army and taking part in acts of oppression against Palestinians. Thus are victims of racism set against each other. In a racist society there is always a lower group to abuse.

Israeli society is today a sick society.

Rising violence

Violence continues to rise in Israeli society. Here is what we have had within 24 hours: a 16-year-old youth was beaten to death by a parent of his girlfriend, because they had come home late one evening. Thirteen-year-old children sexually assaulted and raped a 12-year-old girl. A father abused his nine-month-old son, struck him and shook him, causing him to haemorrhage seriously in his skull, with the result that he will be blind for the rest of his life. The father is a violent man who lived for a time in a settlement located in a violent area. The father’s violence was not born in the settlement, but life in the Occupied Territories in which violence is an official policy, does not foster moderation in violent people, but rather encourages violent outbursts among people whose explosive threshold was already low in the first place.

A nine-month-old boy will pay the price for Israel’s violence.

Violence is not a phenomenon unique to Israel. It exists in many countries. It is a universal phenomenon that is translated into local terms in accordance with conditions in every society.

In Israel the most prominent agent of violence is the Occupation, the destructive implications of which for Israeli society are felt every day, and which we will continue to be felt for many more years to come.

Translator’s notes

1. Lag BaOmer is a springtime Jewish holiday, during which religious Jews traditionally light bonfires. In 2010 Lag BaOmer fell on 2 May.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent.

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