For a nation formed as a refuge for Jews escaping continued persecution in Europe, it is ironic that Israel now turns to the language of persecutors to deal with the growing presence of immigrants within the Israeli borders. First, the residents have taken to blaming local crime on the Africans living in Israel, so the solution rendered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is three-fold: Build a massive fence along the Egyptian border to keep the Africans out, physically remove the migrants already there, and set harsh penalties for Africans who live in Israel to make them want to stay out.
But Netanyahu’s motives are about far more than local petty crimes. He is worried about the Jewishness of Israel—in a country where Jews make up more than 75 percent of the population and the 60,000 or so African immigrants account for less than one percent. In other words, it is the dark brown and black faces from the south that he wants to banish, so that his nation can remain a bastion of Zion purity. At what point does this start sounding familiar to Jews, who have long described it as a matter of pride that they never forget their slaughter at the hands of Hitler’s Third Reich? It was eerily similar language that Hitler used to justify his extinction of the Jews—his desire to rid Germany and its neighbors of the Jews who soiled the purity of his growing Aryan nation.
But isn’t this an all-too-common human flaw, the convenient amnesia that allows any former victim of persecution to employ precisely the tools that were used by his persecutors as he sets about to become a persecutor himself? So when the United States, a nation founded by immigrants fleeing economic deprivation and religious persecution in Europe, began to grow uncomfortable with the steady stream of brown immigrants coming from below our southern borders, our right-wing leaders begin to employ the familiar tools of persecution to victimize any Spanish-speaking, Hispanic-looking residents in the U.S. and try to banish them from our shores. This is not just history repeating itself—it’s more like history being damned. Like the sexually abused child growing up to be the abuser.
Some observers such as Professor Michael Eric Dyson and Rev. Otis Moss III have even accused African Americans of embodying the mindset of our Southern segregationist persecutors in fighting against the rights of gays to enter into marriage. Dyson said that in trying to deny equal and human rights to a group of Americans, African Americans are in danger of becoming the Southern redneck sheriffs of a new age.
It’s too simple to accuse Netanyahu of racism in his efforts to keep out the Africans and protect the Jewishness of his state. After all, it was established in the nation’s founding that it was to be the world’s only majority Jewish state. So it is understandable that when Israeli leaders get any inkling that the Jewish majority is in danger, they will act. But less than one percent, Benjamin? Really? Building a wall on the Egyptian border makes about as much sense as building one along the U.S. border with Mexico—it would be a monumental and expensive waste of time and resources employed to erect a physical embodiment of the state’s racist paranoia. Because if somebody wants to come in bad enough, they will find a way—fence or no fence.
Even worse than racism is willful amnesia, especially in a place as tied into history as Israel, the birthplace of two of the world’s great religions. That a state founded as a refuge against racism and persecution should now become dedicated to the employment of both racism and persecution to keep others away is a sad statement about the failures of the human soul.