It wasn’t condescension or contempt. Recent remarks by former Mossad head Shabtai Shavit reek of racism. That is the proper way to frame them, calling them anything else is letting him off easy. In its classic, formal sense, racism is when a certain social sector perceives itself as superior because of clear racial criteria. Shavit represents an updated version of racism that doesn’t require ethnicity or religion as proof of a defect – you can call it “essential racism.”
The historical overlap between the ideological schism and the ethnic divides in Israel, which had led to the Right being associated with Mizrahim, played a decisive role in shaping the perceived superiority of the mostly Ashkenazi Left over the Right. In recent years, psycho-political distinctions have also come into play: the “Mizrahi” periphery’s consistent support for the Likud – just like Mizrahi politicians’ loyalty to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – is explained as the obedient Mizrahi bowing to his white master. These sick comments are becoming more and more common, but are ignored, because we’ve gotten used to looking for the latest figure to spout the same old Orientalist racism we’ve come to know.
Old-guard racism courses through Shavit’s veins, mostly when he draws a nauseating distinction between “harvest ceremonies on kibbutzim” and “beastly behavior at Yamit 2000.” But the acolyte of the old institution illustrates how a Mizrahi ethnicity is not necessary for the Right to be perceived as an inferior social group. Not only are Netanyahu’s voters “unknowledgeable and lacking in understanding,” but they are also “people whose normative level is as low as grass.” The rule is clear: Unlike us, the cultured, they (the Right) are still stuck in an early stage of development and haven’t progressed to our intellectual and moral level.
“Right-wingdom,” therefore, isn’t a political leaning, but rather a sign of low-grade humanity. Above all, it is a pathology, a chronic disease. What can save the right-wingers from themselves? “We must educate them,” Shavit decrees, without shame. That is how Europe spoke of the native peoples of the lands it conquered and colonized, and sent envoys to educate the wild men and turn them into something that somewhat resembled human material and could be ruled.
Scientific literature is full of studies about types of discourse which served as a tool in the bourgeoisie’s oppression of the poor as “others,” a collective whose mental inferiority explained their wretched state. It wasn’t exploitation or an imbalance of power: it was their own fault, they were poor, poverty was pathological. This is precisely the kind of racist discourse we are hearing from Shavit, who defines intellectual and moral inferiority as major, inherent qualities on the Right. And like any racist, he differentiates between “good right-wingers” and “bad right-wingers.”
Shavit isn’t a condescending snob from Ramat Hasharon. He’s the new version of a racist. So are each and every one of his “brave” critics on the Left, who saw the damage he was doing and rushed to condemn his statements before the sensitive Likudniks could be offended and rush back into Netanyahu’s arms. That’s pathological racism.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel Hayom