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Hebrew media review

From the belly of the beast

Universal outrage is expressed over racist remarks by a right-wing politician in support of segregated maternity wards

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Jewish Home party candidate Bezalel Smotrich speaks to students at the Lev Institute in Jerusalem on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jewish Home party candidate Bezalel Smotrich speaks to students at the Lev Institute in Jerusalem on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A right-wing politician’s comment about women has the Israeli media up in arms. No, it’s not Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent remark that abortions should be outlawed and women who undergo them should face “some form of punishment.” Nor was it Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s signing into law a bill critics say legalizes discrimination based on sexual orientation. Rather, it’s Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich’s statement on Tuesday in defense of segregated Jewish-Arab maternity wards in Israeli hospitals that has the Israeli press so outraged.

“My wife is truly no racist,” the right-wing religious party lawmaker said on Twitter, “but after giving birth she wants to rest rather than have a hafla” — a mass feast often accompanied by music and dancing — “like the Arabs have after their births.”

“It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie down [in a bed] next to a woman who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby 20 years from now,” Smotrich later added.

His remarks came in response to an exposé on Israel Radio that several major Israeli hospitals segregate maternity wards, in violation of the guidelines of the Health Ministry. The hospitals’ managements denied it was institutional policy.

Yedioth Ahronoth pointedly runs a series of photos of Arab and Jewish mothers and nurses at Israeli hospitals with the tagline “we’re all sisters.”

Smotrich’s remarks are roundly condemned in the Hebrew press.

Israel Hayom‘s Dan Margalit says Smotrich’s words were a mix of “stupidity and a closed heart,” which runs contrary to Jewish philosophy and with which “people like Smotrich blacken the face of [Judaism] in Israel and around the world.”

“His loathsome position doesn’t stop at the maternity ward,” Margalit says, spitting venom at the Jewish Home MK. Smotrich would have Israel segregate buses and fire Arab guards at soccer games, he charges. “Where will the evil end? Smotrich will always support it. Well, he’s a racist, but why does he have to proclaim it and cause damage to the public?”

“What raises concern and grief with his stance ultimately is that Smotrich believes that statements like these strengthen his position in his voter base; there they love this racism as if the Jewish people have forgotten what Smotriches of other nations said in other various tongues about our parents, and apparently continue to do so,” Margalit says.

In Haaretz, the issue is likewise not just about Smotrich, but about the party and electorate he represents. Ravit Hecht calls Smotrich “in general a high-quality young man” who’s managed to play the game of supporting the settlements while downplaying racism fairly well. She equates him to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with his racist alter ego taking over on Tuesday.

“The tweet led to verbal diarrhea that ranged from pure Kahanism to a parody of Kahanism,” she writes, calling him a “weird racist clown… who loses control and spews nonsense in abundance.”

In a concluding rambling rant, she says Smotrich has demonstrated not only that the Jewish Home party is racist against Arabs, but Mizrahi Jews as well.

Hanoch Daum throws rabbinic wisdom Smotrich’s way in his Yedioth Ahronoth column, citing the oft-quoted phrase “proper behavior takes precedence to Torah.” He objects to Smotrich’s comment, but notes that similar outrage wasn’t expressed when a left-wing Arab politician on Tuesday refused to call a Palestinian running with a knife to kill a soldier a terrorist.

“The problem with Smotrich’s remarks is that he knowingly paints all Arabs as his enemies, and with a statement like that it’s hard to make contact,” Daum says.

“In hospitals there truly is real coexistence. There’s no nationalist angle. And if Smotrich is not even capable of seeing people as equal there, where can he see it?” he asks. “Or perhaps he believes that one day the Arabs will simply disappear, with all the noise they make in the hallways?”

“It really doesn’t matter right now what political solution you believe in,” Daum writes. “Proper behavior takes precedence to Torah.”

Second fiddle to the Smotrich scandal differs from paper to paper. Israel Hayom focuses on the dismantling of a real estate company whose management swindled customers out of hundreds of thousands of shekels by double booking properties. The paper sums up the scandal with the headline: “38 apartments for 140 buyers.”

For Haaretz, the big story of the day is a national zoning commission’s decision to allow construction on thousands of dunams of land along the coast, stripping the property of its protected status. While the decision still requires government approval, the paper says the proposal is likely to gain approval, to the dismay of environmentalists.

Haaretz explains that under the new zoning laws, construction immediately adjacent to the shoreline will largely remain banned, but beyond 100 yards from the water will be fair game in a lot of places.

The soldier who shot a disarmed and wounded Palestinian terrorist last month appeared in court for an appeal by military prosecutors to have him returned to jail, instead of being held in on-base detention. The outcome, says Yedioth Ahronoth, was that “at least for now, the defense has the upper hand.” The appeal by prosecutors was rejected by the court and the Kfir Brigade soldier will remain detained at the Nahshonim army base.

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