Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Anti-immigrant bias at the Guardian

The Guardian's Harriet Sherwood doesn't like those who immigrated from the former Soviet Union to Israel and she isn't afraid to say so in the Guardian (although she is careful to put her most hateful views in the mouths of others). (Read here.)

(T)hey almost overwhelmed Israel, causing a severe housing crisis. Many eventually settled in Russian enclaves in cities such as Ashdod, Petah Tikva and Haifa – and in expanding West Bank settlements, such as Ariel.

"It was a very different type of immigration," said Lily Galili, an Israeli journalist writing a book about the impact of the tidal wave from the former Soviet Union. "The didn't want to integrate. They wanted to lead. They changed the nature of the country."


"Unfortunately they [immigrants from former Soviet states] have changed the nature of democracy in Israel," said Galili. "There's a certain amount of exaggeration – many things may have changed without them. But they have a different concept of democracy. And they have strengthened and given confidence to the [homegrown] secular rightwing."

A year ago the former US president Bill Clinton caused a furore when he said Russian-speaking Israelis were "an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians".

Russian immigrants were among "the hardest-core people against a division of the land ... They've just got there, it's their country, they've made a commitment to the future there. They can't imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it," Clinton was quoted in Foreign Policy magazine as saying.

Galili pointed to "some sense of alienation between Russian immigrants and native-born Israelis. There is not much social interaction. There are still places for 'Russians' that 'Israelis' don't go and aren't wanted – and vice versa."

But, she added, there would be no going back. "For many years the joke was that Israel had become the 51st state of the US. Instead we have become just another Soviet republic. It's quite a twist in the story."

Would the editors of the Guardian print such things about any other immigrant group in the world?

The blog CIF Watch has posted a column rebutting the Guardian's blanket condemnation of an entire ethnic group with the words of Anastasia, a Soviet emigre to Israel. Anastasia writes:

I am beyond furious at [Harriet Sherwood's] article!

[What she says about Russians] couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

As an immigrant who’s been living here most of my life, I consider myself to be 110% ISRAELI and not Russian or Kazakh (I was born in the republic of Kazakhstan).

My mother is Jewish but I have many friends whose mother are in fact non-Jewish but are similarly supremely dedicated to this country.

It is absolute rubbish that immigrants integrated little and live mostly in “Russian enclaves”.

Many such “unintegrated Russians” are married to “Sabras” (Israelis who were born in Israel), give their kids Israeli names and many even refuse to speak Russian anymore.

This LIE [regarding the] lack of integration is evident everywhere.

I, as with most of the “unintegrated Russians”, have served in the army and, in fact, many of these “unintegrated Russian” young men go to become fighters and officers in the army and fight and DIE side by side with Israel-born soldiers!

We study all together in schools and universities and despite there being “Russian” hang-out places, it is SIMPLY NOT TRUE that [non-Russian] Israelis are NOT wanted there. The FIB that Russians created a housing problem is [also simply not true]. Russians did not come to parasite on this country. They finished “Ulpan” (Hebrew classes for immigrants) and right away began searching for jobs. They can now be found in every single workplace including hospitals, courts, and the media (NOT ONLY Russian media).

The fact that Harriet Sherwood makes a point of singling out Russians is a total double standard. And the following quote by the Russian-hating Israeli journalist, whom [Sherwood] must have had to dig out from some very dark place, which claims “…alienation between Russian immigrants and native-born Israelis [exist because] there is not much social interaction” is also simply not true.

Most of my friends are Israelis, many of my friends are married to Israelis, we party, travel and do everything together! And the older generation is the same.

In short, [Sherwood] evidently didn’t have anything to report about and found, in the much maligned Russian community, a convenient target and scapegoat.

I couldn't agree with Anastasia more.

Now about Bill Clinton: the former president was apparently in a professorial mood when he addressed a meeting of his group Clinton Global Initiative in September 2010. He used that opportunity to expound upon the demographic breakdown of which groups of Israelis stand where with respect to support for peace efforts. (Read here.) Oddly, his thumbnail analysis broke down Israelis into the following groups: Sabras, Ashkenazi immigrants and their children, Moroccan immigrants, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He cast the first two of those groups as supporters of peace, the Soviet immigrants as opponents of peace, and the "Moroccans" as the swing vote. I would call Clinton's statement an oversimplification, but that term doesn't do justice to its sheer distortion of a number of complex issues. Setting aside Clinton's idiotic use of the term "Moroccan" to indicate immigrants to Israel from Arab and other Muslim countries, his categories all contain both proponents and opponents of a variety of positions with respect to possible peace proposals. Clinton's casting of the peace process as a monolithic concept which certain ethnic groups support while others oppose not only distorts the complexities of both Israeli politics and the range of potential peace proposals, it serves to further polarize the groups he spoke about. His statement was not only ignorant, it was bigoted, and served to perpetuate the very divisions it purported to oppose.

That assessment of Clinton's statement applies equally to Sherwood's article in the Guardian. It is bigoted, and it serves to perpetuate through its bigotry the very divisions it decries. Such views serve as an obstacle to building the coalitions within Israel for seeking peace. Proponents of peace would do well to avoid resorting to gross ethnic generalizations which tend to polarize rather than bring people together.

1 comment:

aviv said...

I thought you would appreciate this:

Fresh from today and From Haaretz no less.


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