Two days ago, my girlfriend and I were attacked by a mob of proud Jews in south Tel Aviv. Still trying to understand why.
I went to a demonstration led by MK Michael Ben-Ari two days ago (Tuesday), and was joined by my girlfriend, Galina. Ben-Ari, a Kahanist, was inciting the crowd against the African refugees in a distinctly anti-Semitic manner, peppering his talk with incessant references to excrement and urine. At some point, Galina couldn’t take it any longer, and shouted something back. Within minutes we were surrounded by an angry mob of about 20 people, composed mostly of women, who hurled curses at her. Someone pulled out a tear gas canister and waved it at her face.
Racist and sexual slurs filled the air repeatedly. Time and time again, people expressed the wish she would be raped by Sudanese, and asked her if she was bedding them. A boy, between 10 and 11 years old, screamed at her point blank that what she needs is a “explicative deleted” – editor. David Sheen videotaped much of it.
For my part, I was busy trying to pull her out of there, and pushing away the hands in her way – there were plenty of them. There was also spitting. At a certain stage, when Ben-Ari and his travelling circus went on their way, a cop wended his way to Galina, and whispered to her that the police were pulling away, and she should, too.
We tried to get out of the market. The mob was screaming with glee that she was being arrested. More spitting and curses. A woman aimed a kick at Galina’s head from behind her, I blocked the kick with a snarl. She was smiling. On the way to the train station we were attacked, physically, by a hoodlum, and as I was trying to get in between him and Galina after he hit me in the back, I decided that if he attacks me again, I’d take the metal part of the camera and smash it into his jaw, and take my chances with the police later.
Luckily he pulled away, and we continued on fast towards the train station, with people swearing at Galina every few meters. A gang of teenagers waited for us near the train station. Plenty of sexual affront. One of them tried to knock David’s camera away. We fled to the security of the station. So that’s what a proud Jewish mob looks like. Galina thought she could reason with them, and made a decent effort, but you can’t debate with 20 people screaming at you incessantly. When the demonstration began, there was a nutjub who, whenever she saw a refugee, would scream, “Here they are, here they are, why do you let them go?”
This was my first angry mob since the elections of 1988, and then I was young, stupid and unafraid. It is frightening, very much so. Argument is pointless with minds seeping with racism. With one exception, no one came to our aid. We were in the Hatikva Market, a public place, and no one came to our aid. I would like to think they wanted to but couldn’t overcome their fear. Later, I thought we were lucky none of us stumbled. This may have served as a signal for an assault, and I’m not sure we would have been able to get up on our own. Let’s put it this way: after Tuesday, I prefer Sudanese refugees to proud Jews. I feel safer with them. And after the shock and fear, an attempt at understanding what took place. The legend that African refugees turned the paradise that was south Tel Aviv into a terrorized crime zone has to be rejected with a terse “you gotta be s@$&#€@g me.” Statistics proved time and time again the crime wave exists mostly in the minds of the politicians stroking the hatred, of which Ben Ari is an ambitious competitor. I lived in Hatikva for two years; I’ve seen the people, the despair, the fear at nights, the absence of infrastructure, the flooding every winter when the sewage system collapsed – with my own eyes. Spare me the bullshit about a quiet neighborhood of happy poor workers.
First, there’s the economic hardship, which prevents people from getting an education and getting the hell out of there. Above it, we find Jewish supremacism, the concept of a Chosen People, “every Jew is the son of a King.” Proud Jews are often people whose Jewishness is the only thing they can be proud of. The blow I received came after I was asked if I am a Jew, and replied in the negative.
The speeches of Ben-Ari and others enraged the crowd. Ben-Ari spoke of Sudanese who allegedly urinated on synagogues, that is polluting the holy sites of Jews, and this was infuriating to people I suspect would have a hard time recalling how a synagogue looks from the inside. Another speaker screamed that the refugees are not here accidentally, that it was a plot by the Arab countries to inject a fifth column into Israel, which will help the Arabs during the next war.
Racism, particularly active racism, is common among people who believe life screwed them. It’s a very useful conspiracy theory: you’re not responsible for your failure, someone else is. You deserved, deserve, better, but dark forces – Masons, Communists, hidden Muslim armies, the Joooz, the New Israel Fund – take what is rightfully yours.
This mix is very potent. It is very easy – even Ben Ari, which was never said to be the sharpest cheese in the fridge, manages it – to convince racists that foreigners who move into their neighbourhood are coming to take their jobs, disinherit them from what was their home for decades, and have intercourse with their women. It is easy, and it happens.
The real explanation is more complex. Neither the government not the Tel Aviv Municipality invested in their slums the resources necessary to improve them. Once, more than 30 years ago, Menachem Begin led the Neghborhood Reconstruction project, which held great promise before Begin abandoned it in favor of another, the occupation of the West Bank. The government announced this week it will raise the VAT, the most regressive tax, most harmful to the poor, to 17 percent, and that it would also place VAT on fruit and vegetables. Which means the expenses of the Hatikva residents is about to skyrocket. On the same day, the Knesset approved a bill providing tax cuts to people contributing to settlements. Yesterday, the Knesset approved NIS 161 million to ultra-Orthodox institutions, NIS 1.7 million for the bureau of convicted rapist Moseh Katzav – WTF? – but declined to give NIS 4.2 million to centers aiding victims of sexual assault, which may lead to their closure. With the exception of the years of the second Rabin government, this has been the government’s policy for 35 years: create a welfare state – in the West Bank. The government of Greater Israel does not have the money for welfare in old Israel, it is busy making facts on the ground beyond the Green Line. And if you want to make facts on the ground, you need settlers. The ideological base is limited. You need to entice people to go there. You want a welfare state? Better move to Beit El. Which is why the slogan “money to neighbourhoods, not settlements” was so successful in the 1990s (and may have given Rabin his slim margin of victory); which is why Ben Ari does not want to us to talk about it. Because if we could penetrate the layers of hatred and racism, we could explain what a huge swindle took place under the auspices of the Likud governments; how wealth was indeed redistributed, with the oligarchs taking the cream but with the settlers coming immediately after them.
Like the other inciters – with Netanyahu, long-time national champion, in the lead – Ben Ari doesn’t want the national conversation to turn in that direction. It’s so much better to stir hatreds and resentments. Of which there are plenty. Ben Ari attacked Netanyahu and his wife directly, in prime Likud territory, and won howls of appreciation. It’s not clear how much of this will remain until election time, and if the voters of Hatikva – those of them who do vote – won’t return home to the Likud. Ben Ari gambles on getting some of their votes; he built his parliamentary bureau nearby.
And when the rational analysis is over, you remain with the curses and the sexual insults, the wishing of rape, the fantasies about sex defiling Jewish honor. All this exemplifies great, irrational hatred towards anyone who dares to think outside the box of Jewish blood, accompanied by the claims that those who think otherwise are doing so for mercenary reasons. The concept that someone may think otherwise is incomprehensible. These lines were written before Wednesday night’s pogrom, but while the events saddened me, and enraged me, they did not surprise me.