Emotions have been high here the past few weeks. Not for me personally, but for the country as a whole. Nothing new about that, I suppose, but since I’m not usually here to observe it, the past few weeks stand out to me in how they embody the complex realities of this place. This is what I mean:
1. Shortly after Neil left, a group of several dozen Israeli Rabbis issued a religious ruling prohibiting the sale or rental of apartments in Israel to Arabs. Their ruling caused a huge uproar in both the secular and religious communities here, with a group of Yeshiva students signing a petition opposing the ruling, the publishing of “compromise rulings/letters” [trying to assuage the enraged public], and general remarks about the racism in this country.
2. Shortly after this, a rally was held in the city of Bat Yam [just south of Tel Aviv] to continue the protest against renting/selling apartments to Arabs and to protest against Arabs dating Jews.
3. Following this, just yesterday a group of Rabbi’s wives wrote an open letter pleading with Jewish women not to date Arabs, suggesting that doing so “removes them from the Jewish people.”
4. Thrown into this mix is the increasing tension in southern Tel Aviv between veteran residents of the community and groups of Sudanese/Eritrean refugees – a tension manifested in one demonstration by the southern Tel Aviv community calling for the government to move the “infiltrators,” one demonstration by the refugees [and their supporters] calling for the government to take better care of them, and various meetings/newspaper editorials/film festivals/etc.
These issues permeate daily conversation and paint a pretty bleak picture of what’s happening here and in what direction Israel is headed. And when there’s so much ignorance and hate, how much of an impact can education have? I went on a trip yesterday with one of the groups I’m observing to a Catholic church in Jaffa. Two of the Jewish girls balked at entering the compound, citing a prohibition for Jews to enter non-Jewish holy places. Whose prohibition? As an adult in the group gently pointed out, it’s important for them to think for themselves before accepting as ‘law’ the interpretation of a rabbi/group of rabbis.
I was thankful to hear his words, but skeptical about how much of a difference they made. This is not an easy place to be an independent thinker, especially not at their age.