Last week, a video of two Israeli police officers beating an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent surfaced on the web, and the genie of racism in Israel leaped out of the bottle. It has been lurking there for decades, but Israelis are great at denial. Now, thankfully, we cannot ignore this sore in our society.
Racism is not new in Israel. In a famous Israeli comedy, Lool (Chicken Coop), there is a skit (with English subtitles) showing how every time new olim (immigrants) come to Israel, they are greeted with dislike, and how quickly (and merrily) they join the choir against other newcomers. The skit is very entertaining and soon became a classic, but like every good humor, it is amusing precisely because it is so much true.
Yet, racism is not detached from other issues plaguing the Israeli society. If we focus on only treating racism, we will not resolve it, but rather perpetuate it and worsen other social challenges because we will be wasting time and energy on futile efforts.
When the video of the officers beating the soldier surfaced, the Ethiopian community erupted in a violent protest. Sadly, this is what it took for everyone to admit that there is a problem. Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, stated, "We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough," and Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said, "We cannot accept this. The police are dealing with it, and we will need to change things."
As just said, for all the good intentions, racism, and any form of discrimination, cannot be solved by focusing solely on them. The problem runs far deeper. When a society is made to think in terms of "me," we cannot expect people to become inclusive, embracing, and start thinking in terms of "we." We have to transform our thinking, and this requires effort. It may require some bold soul searching, but we really have no choice; we have reached a tipping point. If we do not address how we relate to one another, we will not survive as a country.
The U.S. is regrettably a great example of the futility of trying to eradicate racism. After so many years and so many efforts, and even with a black president, it is a sad fact that blacks are still discriminated in every aspect of American life, as this sobering clip demonstrates.
Because of our selfishness, we tend to think of other people in an opportunistic manner. That is, we relate to them as sources of potential gain or potential pain. The only way to transcend this exploitive attitude is if we not only understand, but truly feel that we are all a single entity.
When people relate to one another in this way, they care about others as they care about themselves. As a result, they cannot hurt others, just as they cannot themselves.
Such a transformation may seem like an impossible feat, but with an environment that supports mutual responsibility instead of self-centeredness, the embracing mindset becomes the only reasonable thinking. If you pause for a minute and reflect on life as we truly live it, you will realize how stupid egoism really is. In almost every job, we work in teams. To provide for ourselves, we go to the supermarket to buy products we cannot produce alone, but rely on others to produce them. Even maintaining a minimal level of social life requires other people.
In every aspect of our lives, we are dependent on other people. So where is the sense in making them miserable? Despite that, when we are bombarded from every direction by media that presents the opposite idea, we think of egoism as reality.
To change our views we must change the media and public discourse. There are plenty of internet sites, organizations, and people who feel and act according to a more inclusive mindset. In the New Global Education (ARI Institute) Facebook page, you can find many examples of such people and endeavors. However, this is still a drop in the bucket compared to what is required to change the public mindset.
We cannot wait for governments to change society. If we want it different, free of racism, we have to start thinking of ourselves as a whole, rather than as individuals. If I gain at someone else's expense, it will inevitably turn against me.
In the institute I have founded, the ARI institute, we are working on facilitating this change. But it will take much more than one institute to do that. It will require joining hands with many others who feel that we cannot solve our problems unless we realize that we are one, inclusive entity, not one ethnic group, one faith, one city, or even one sex. When we make inclusion our prime value, there will be no room for discrimination of any kind, just as right handed people do not discriminate the left hand just because it is not their dominant hand.