Israel is a real multicultural society
There is no other country in the Middle East with a greater variety of peoples from different ethnic backgrounds. How does that actually work out in practice? And what does it have to do with Apartheid?
In Part One of this subject, I referred to the definition of Apartheid, based on the South African Model of forced segregation by race. I repeat, that this article is not about that subject. I used the controversial Afrikaans word instead of it’s synonym – Segregation – to demonstrate the way in which people react to it.
The conventional Politically Correct response is horror and disgust. But I am attempting to look beyond that by distinguishing between enforced and voluntary segregation.
Segregation can be defined as: “the condition of being separated from others.” (1) And separation has an alternative meaning of “dissociation” (2)
My question is: Is there anything wrong, socially or morally, with voluntary dissociation? The reality is that, even in a multicultural environment, everyone dissociates themselves from the society to some degree. So the question becomes one of extent – not principle.
So, how does multiculturalism function in Israel? (3)
Demographic Background (4)
Israeli society can be divided into Three major blocs:
- The Jews
- The Arabs
- The Rest
Jews constitute around 76% of the total population of 7.8 million (i.e. about 6 million Jews) .
Ethnically, there is an almost equal division between Sephardim ( from North Africa and other “Black”countries) and Ashkenazim (from Europe and other “White” Anglo-Saxon countries). The colour terms are not pejorative – just descriptive.
Within these numbers are divisions according to the degree of religious observance – or the lack of it! About 30 % identify themselves as secular or Atheist. The balance varies from slightly religious to extreme Ultra-Orthodox, with an almost uncountable number of nuanced divisions along the way.
Around 20% (1.5 million) of the population are Arabs; 82% of these are Muslims, with the remainder equally divided between Druse and Christians. They are almost all religious. And those that are not are probably too frightened to admit it. They do not enjoy the same freedoms within their own society, as do the Jews, even though they could, since they are equal before the law. But their limitations are entirely self imposed – it’s a cultural thing. (5)
Here the numbers get a bit hazy, due to the fact that so many of this remaining 4/5% are either legal foreign workers, or illegal immigrants. Unbelievably, there are said to be around 300,000 of them! And the number is growing weekly as hundreds cross the border
from Sinai, aided by Bedouin smugglers. They come primarily from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. They are concentrated in very few cities – mainly Tel Aviv and Eilat.
[The government licences some foreign workers for fixed periods of work. These are, mainly, from Thailand (agriculture), China (construction) and the Philippines (Domestic and caregivers).]
This was a thumbnail sketch of the demographics. So, what about cultural integration – or the lack of it?
Here is a paradox. Within the Jewish population there is a sharp division between the religious ultra-Orthodox and the rest. Due to the requirements of their lifestyle, and their relationship to society in general, they have chosen to live in “closed”communities within certain cities. There are no physical barriers – but there might as well be.
They have chosen segregation voluntarily.
They are the living example of the aphorism: ” You can take the Jew out of the Ghetto – but you can’t take the Ghetto out of the Jew.” Although this is supposed to relate only to a state of mind, in their case the division is physical as well. Had they been forced to live like this, as were many Jews throughout history, it could well have been described as “Apartheid”. But this is their free choice. They want separation.
For the rest of the Jews, the situation is almost the opposite. Although it is true that there are areas
that have become almost monopolised by one ethnic group or another, this is frequently a function of economics. The main influencing factor today is the price and type of housing. The affluent in one neighbourhood, the poor in another.
On the positive side it means that the cultural identity of each group is maintained in terms of social and educational norms. And the local shops supply their special needs. It’s a form of segregation but with varying degrees of willingness.
The Arabs have also chosen voluntary segregation for their personal life style. There are about 120 primarily Arab cities, towns and villages. Even in cities with mixed populations they usually occupy different neighbourhoods. Their degree of integration, in terms of habitation, is extremely limited. This is not for reasons of racism. It is the usual story of religious, cultural and social needs.
On the other hand, they are integrated in the workplace, and are a definite part of the social, political. educational and commercial framework of the country. According to the law, they have equal rights. The extent to which they exercise, or are allowed to exercise, those rights is more a function of human nature – not the law.
I do not believe that you can legislate “brotherly love”. Prejudice is a fundamental component of the human psyche. Morally unjustifiable or not, it is the reality. Ultimately it depends on the worldview of each individual.
There are a small number of cases of discrimination in housing. There are considerably more cases in other spheres. But the numbers of Arabs seeking total integration, whilst slowly growing, are not the majority.
For all the reasons previously cited for other groups, they also choose voluntary segregation. It’s not Apartheid!
What about the foreign workers and illegals?(6)
These workers break down into a number of distinct groups. For obvious reasons of language, religion and culture, they are even less integrated than the Arabs. Actually, they are hardly integrated at all. There are a number of them that have lived in Israel for many years and have families. Some of their children are studying within the state educational system.
Whatever integration they have is only in the framework of their jobs. Thai workers live on the
kibbutzim where they work. Filipinos within the private homes of their employers. Africans sometimes in the workers’ apartments of the hotel.
If not there, then they tend to inhabit the poorest places in the poorest neighborhoods. Which could lead a reasonable person to the question: “why do they come here?”
The answer is, usually, economic. The number of true asylum seekers is marginal compared to the total of the illegals.
It could also lead to the question of “why Israel” considering that we do not, traditionally, receive the most glowing media coverage in the world. But that is a subject for another post. Perhaps I’ll call it: “Why do Black Africans flock to Apartheid Israel?” (7)
In closing, I just want to return to my main proposition. There are very valid and compelling reasons why people and groups choose to live apart from others.
Would you call it “dissociation”?
Or “voluntary Apartheid” ?
Andyboy – Telling it as it is!
- Apartheid is really so evil? (andyboy1.com)
- The Penis is mightier than the sword! (andyboy1.com)
- Apartheid State (possil.wordpress.com)