Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Yitzak Aharonovitch

...is a Member of the Knesset representing Yisrael Beitenu, and the Minister responsible for Public Security. Yesterday, he was taken on a tour of the old Central Bus Station in south Tel Aviv. These days, the derelict complex is the haunt of pimps, pushers and professionals - not a very nice place.

Aharonovitch was introduced to two undercover cops who had just carried out a bust. One apologised for his appearance - to fit in, he'd scruffed himself up a little.

Precisely what Aharonovitch said in reply depends on how you translate the word Araboush: Ha'aretz go for "Dirty Arab", whilst Jpost deescribe it as a "derogatory Hebrew term for Arabs": Ynet go a bit sensationalist, describing the the word as the "Hebrew equivalent of 'Sand Nigger' ".

In a sense, it doesn't mater how you translate it; no-one uses the word benignly, a point belated recognised by Aharonovitch when he issued a statement later, clarifying that the word was "uttered in a moment of jest", and "does not express (his) worldview".

I see.

One can't - shouldn't - try to control how people think: It's an exercise in futility. Perhaps Aharonovitch doesn't like the Arab population one little bit: there isn't very much that I can do about it. But as a citizen, he has a basic duty of common courtesy towards his fellow man, regardless of ethnicity. As a minister, as a representative of this country, as the minister responsible for public order, this duty heightens significantly. I do think that Aharonovitch's use of the term, whilst on official duties and in the presence of various radio and print journalists, is really worrying.

The argument about Yisrael Beitenu being full of out-and-out racists has been made many times before. Correct or not, the casual use of this ugly word - given the circumstances and his position - demonstrates, to my mind, the influence of their policies upon the broader public discourse concerning race relations in this country.

In case you think I'm being hysterical, consider this: Jpost point out that when a police officer used the same term, on internal police radio, to describe demonstrators in Umm el-Fahm, he was sacked by Avi Dichter - Public Security Minister at the time, oddly enough.

I don't think MK Aharonovitch is worried about his job this morning, skewered worldview or not. Do you?

9 comments:

Tim said...

Dunno if you recall, but this is pretty much how Britain was in the 70s. Racial epithets were cheerfully bandied about, all justified with "it's just a bit of a larf, innit?"

Since then (thankfully) it's become unacceptable to use the n-word, and other derogatory racial terms. Unless you happen to be a member of (a) the Royal Family, (b) the BNP, or (c) both. Nah, ignore (c) - I woz just havin' a larf...

Hopefully, Israel as a young country and culture will go through a similar maturing process. We'll see.

Goy said...

I hope you're right too. You are correct about Israel being a young country... we tend to forget this a lot of the time, don;t we?

דניאל said...

Not to be an apologist for an idiot and his idiotic comment, but it could be pointed out that in general such derogatives don't have the weight in Hebrew that they have in English, since the history is different, i guess. "Kushi", nowadays translated occasionally as "nigger" actually just means "Kushite" or Ethiopian, and was until quite recently not a negative word at all. The need to find a subtitle equivalent for US TV content made it "nigger." The use of "-oush" or "-on" suffixes are actually familiar diminutives, and "-oush" is often used lovingly for one's friends or kids. so I'd say "sand nigger" is a bit strong for "araboush".. Some Israelis also refer sometimes to Jews as "yehudon"... While stupid in all cases, the level of offense one should take depends much on the speaker and his intent - friendly or hateful?

Goy said...

Context and translation are both important, I agree; that's why I included the offerings from all three papers. Mrs Goy, who is a native Hebrew speaker, tells me that it is certainly a pejorative, albeit not quite on the level that ynet suggest...

That said, if a word is commonly used as a pejorative or ethnic slur, you only have yourself to blame if you bandy it about casually. The context too - the officer 'blacked up' (so to speak, and masquerading as a drug user, narrows the opportunities to give Aharonovitch the benefit of the doubt.

But I will accept one thing - I'm not inclined towards giving Friends of Yisrael Beitenu the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to matters like this. I think they've poisoned the well at a time when measured talk is needed; bandying about words like this merely fits the profile they;ve created for themselves...

Nobody said...

Goy said...

Context and translation are both important, I agree; that's why I included the offerings from all three papers. Mrs Goy, who is a native Hebrew speaker, tells me that it is certainly a pejorative, albeit not quite on the level that ynet suggest..
.

I don't think it's pejorative. It's exactly as Daniel describes it. It's a diminutive occasionally used for kids or friends. It's more or less like -chik used in, say ,Golanchik to refer to Golani soldiers. The minister basically said that the agent looks like one of those Arab construction workers who take minibuses at the station when they go home.

Of course, these days one should be extremely careful with words lest one gives our Mahatma-Gandhis a reason to start celebrating for weeks in papers and on TV. Mahatmas are just waiting for such opportunities. It goes without saying that Mahatmas are aware that "dirty Arab" and "sand nigger" are not correct translations of Araboosh, but this is beyond the point

Goy said...

Nah, I'm not with you on this, Nobody. Look at it this way: What response would you expect if you referred to an Arab-Israeli - preferably one whom you didn't know personally - as an "Araboosh"?

I definitely do not wish to go down the PC path of sanitising all language, taking words out of context and accepted meaning and so on. But I do think that this was not on...

(Still thinking allowed: 'Yekke' was once deemed an insult; now, it isn't. Time has allowed the communal meaning of the word to evolve. Perhaps one day 'Araboosh' might attain similar status. But not yet. I think.)

Goy said...

thinking aloud, I meant to write. God, I'm turning illiterate...

Nobody said...

I definitely do not wish to go down the PC path of sanitising all language, taking words out of context and accepted meaning and so on. But I do think that this was not on...

The context is very simple, it's - you look as one of those unwashed Arabs hanging around - . It was not about some abstract Arabs or Arabs as the epitome of uncleanliness.

Goy said...

Mmm.
I think we see the context differently. That said, I admit a bias (I think I mentioned it before): I have a fundamental distrust of Avigdor Lieberman and all his works. But perhaps one should save that for another time...