Monday, July 4, 2016

Bigotry is the New Racism

Prejudice again shows its ugly face. The vocabulary changes (discrimination, segregation, racism, xenophobia, bigotry) but the core issue remains the same -- too many people cannot believe that all humans are in the same boat and mankind are all alike. Our differences are less important than our similarities. If my life has a theme it is confronting that demon and doing all I can to disable it. 

My blogging life repeats that tune like a broken record. (I travel that trail so often it sometimes bores even me.) So Britain's vote to leave the EU, the rise of Donald Trump, a political shift to the right in many countries and the displacement of more millions since World War Two (economic migrants, refugees, political and religious groups escaping persecution) have combined in a global pandemic. Here, then, is a blog post I compiled in 2004, updated as needed. 

Discrimination is alive and well, everywhere

Here is an essay by a smart young man practicing law in New York published in one of the better weblogs of 2004 which has now vanished. Here he reflects on the challenges that some Jews encounter when they move to Israel from some other part of the world. Ironically the prejudice they find there echoes antisemitism. The essay is worth reading in full.
"With second and third generations now born in Israel, the Indian Jews have gradually come to feel accepted in their new homeland." 
But this is nothing new, I have heard the same sentiment expressed to me by second generation Indians in Britain and those from the USA and this seems the norm for the cycle of immigration/ acceptance into most Western countries for such immigrants. It is only to be expected that Israel would replicate the same structure, with its attendant problems as well as opportunities. The powerful integrative factor of a common religious background and an ethnic-based nationalism would be centripetal influences that don't exist in the same way for Indian immigrants to other countries and where acceptance is carved out along different axes of identification. The thrust of Mandalia's inquiry to me seems misplaced as it seems to assert that Israel should somehow be different; when there is no reason why this should really be the case and his plea for tackling racism seems slightly inappropriate juxtaposed to the phenomenon of Antisemitism elsewhere.
I have spent my adult life looking at discrimination in its many forms and trying to figure out how to overcome it. The challenge started sometime in my teens when I came across Gordon Allport's The Nature of Prejudice.  I was too young to realize that what I was reading was about to destroy to foundations of much of what I had been spoon-fed growing up in the South in the fifties. By the time I reached the college classroom and learned in a sociology class that a first-generation African from the bush could, with the right environment, grow up to be an engineer or physician, my universe of racial prejudice was entirely destroyed.

I was a ripe convert for the civil rights movement and found myself taking part in picket lines and sit-ins. I learned early how easily one's peers could dismiss your acquaintance when you were willing to stand for certain principles. Character development was, for me, a product of on the job training.

Later, during a tour of Korea, hosted by the Army Medical Service Corps, I learned first hand that Koreans were no less prone to prejudice than we were. Not only did they discriminate among GI's of color (which they had learned, of course, from the military itself, watching how military units were segregated by color during the Korean conflict) they were also able to discern among various Asian racial groups, pointing out those who looked Chinese or Japanese or Korean, even among their own population! I learned that their Declaration of Independence began "We declare ourselves to be an independent nation and an independent race..."

My sad conclusion early on was that prejudice in all its forms seems to be an inborn characteristic of mankind. I reared my children with deliberate efforts to vaccinate them against the poison of prejudice, but sometimes I sense that the lesson is still not learned.

I do understand at a visceral level how tough the battle can be to stay clean of this bad thinking. Sometime in the seventies white people were politely but firmly invited out of "the movement" as black leaders were able to say in so many words "thanks but no thanks; this is our issue, not yours" which, when you think of it, is another form of the same thinking.

I could go on for hours about this subject, but nothing would be added to the store of knowledge that would change any minds. I can only point to others who are still manfully fighting the demons and hope that in time the landscape can change for the better. 

More from the Head Heeb 
(Great pseudonym for one Jonathan Edelstein, now vanished from the web.)

Unrelated to the topic above (but maybe not) is another essay that describes jury selection in Eighteenth century England. For anyone interested in history, particularly the history of law and juries, this is one of the blog host's passions. The historic foundations of the jury can make us very glad that the law is able to become more resilient with the passing of time...
Finally, anyone whose name, address or occupation didn't match the list provided to the prisoner was ineligible to serve, even if the mistake was as minor as a name misspelled by one letter. This was a time when the law was still highly formalistic and the concept of "harmless error" - an error so trivial as to have no legal significance - had not yet been developed. It was during this era that a defendant accused of stealing a duck was acquitted because he had been caught with a drake, and William McAndrew was dismissed from Crossfield's jury panel because he lived in Lower Thames Street instead of Lower Thomas Street.
Until now I never looked at that link cited above, just the single line quoted in Edlestein's post. 
I wonder now about the status of the Israeli Jews tagged Bene Israel.
...I met Yuval Abraham at a party, again in Mumbai. Yuval was a 37-year-old engineer whose family had returned to the subcontinent from Israel. As a Jew, he had always dreamed of living in the Jewish state, and in 1999 he and his family emigrated to the Negev Desert town of Beersheba. However, within two years they were back in India. Life in Israel was not as rosy as they had imagined. Yuval explained: "In India, we have never experienced any discrimination from Hindus or even Muslims. As Israel was a Jewish state, we thought our lives there would be even better. In fact, it was worse. Forget army service and suicide bombings - what really upset me was the racist attitude of other Jews. In Israel, if you are not a white Ashkenazi [European Jew], you're treated like a second-class citizen." 
As an Indian (although Hindu) who had visited Israel, I could understand his sentiments. On my latest trip, in 2003, I shared a taxi from the airport to Jerusalem with British Jews. I was to be dropped off last because I was the only one staying in Palestinian East Jerusalem.
"Don't you feel scared living there?" asked one female fellow passenger. "No, not really," I replied. I listed the reasons why I didn't stay in the Jewish half of the city: I was stared at; constantly stopped by soldiers for no reason; ignored in bagel shops; shouted at by bus drivers; blanked whenever I asked for directions. 
Yuval belonged to the Bene Israel (Jews from the state of Maharashtra), who form the majority of the 50,000 Indian Jews who, it is estimated, live in Israel. There were two main migrations of India's Jews to Israel. The first came with the almost simultaneous partition of India and Palestine in 1947 and 1948, which led to the creation of the religiously exclusive states of Pakistan and Israel. In Palestine, the estimated 750,000 Palestinians who were forced out of their homes or who fled were replaced by Jews from across the world. From India came the Bene Israel, who were joined in smaller numbers by the Cochin Jews of Kerala and a few Baghdadi Jews from Mumbai.

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