Racism is a set of beliefs that work to reproduce a social structure, yielding racial superiority over an inferior race.
Racism sorts human beings into stereotyped categories. It views them as objects that can be used to justify and uphold a hierarchy, which limits access to resources, rights and privileges for some members of society. Racism differs from prejudice because it enforces structural inequality.
Therefore, it is impossible for members of an oppressed group to be racist against their oppressors. The overlying structure that privileges some lives over others does not exist as a two-way street, and to claim that the newest wave of violence in Israel as racism against Jewish Israelis is a gross mischaracterization of the social structure that exists there.
The overall situation in Israel-Palestine is political and not religious in nature, as the recent Future editorial, “It’s time to stop ignoring racism in Israel,” seeks to paint it. In regard to the particular situation regarding the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa, an overlapping area with enormous significance in both Judaism and Islam, it is important to note that it is not just Jewish worshipers that are forbidden from praying at the holy site. Lately, all male Muslim worshipers under the age of 50 are forbidden from entering the compound for Friday prayers.
By mentioning the city of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, in juxtaposition with a sentence referring to “Islamist” tenants, “It’s time” seems to imply that Islam (or its followers) are inherently violent, while Judaism is inherently peaceful. As discussed by renowned scholar Reza Aslan, Islam, nor any other religion, promotes violence or pacifism. Individuals bring action to religion, and, when discussing religious groups with millions of followers worldwide, it is impossible to make sweeping judgments about individual propensities toward violence.
An uptick in violence affects everyone, from Jewish, Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel to the non-citizen residents in danger of losing their homes in East Jerusalem — from Palestinians in Gaza to the West Bank citizens who have been living under Israeli military occupation since 1967. The loss of innocent lives is horrendous no matter who they are. Picking and choosing whose deaths to pay attention to discredits the memory of those who are ignored. A Palestinian life is just as valuable as the life of an Israeli citizen, and a Jewish life is just as valuable as a Muslim, Christian, atheist or member of another religious group’s life. To hold one life above the other is a devaluation of all humanity.
As Americans, the right for people to practice their religion freely is one we hold dear. My heart breaks when I hear that people have been forbidden from practicing their religion, but I also know that political violence does not exist in a vacuum.
Violence and hatred in Israel-Palestine is a direct byproduct of the occupation and systemic mistreatment of non-Jewish Israelis. Until human rights are for all and everyone can live a life of dignity, the violence will not end through its own irrelevance. As Americans, we can work together to end the occupation and tip the status quo toward justice. We do not have to accept racism. We do not have to accept discrimination. We do not have to accept bigotry. We must champion justice and equality for all — in Israel, in Palestine and around the world.
Mia Warshofsky is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.