We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible terms recent racist comments made by Israel's newly-elected chief Ashkenazi rabbi, David Lau, who referred to African-American basketball players playing in Israel as "kushim," a derogatory term that is akin to "nigger." Rabbi Lau, a government official who is paid by the state and who is scheduled to serve a ten-year term as one of two official chief Israeli rabbis, made the offensive remarks to young Jewish religious students while warning them against watching televised sports like basketball. Following criticism from anti-racism activists, Rabbi Lau was defended by Natfali Bennett, Israel's Minister of Religious Services and leader of the Jewish Home party.
Regrettably, the sentiments expressed by Rabbi Lau reflect a larger problem of racism in Israeli society. In recent years, Israel has witnessed a rising tide of socially acceptable bigotry, particularly against African asylum seekers and Palestinians, fanned by senior religious and political figures. In June 2012, Israel's then-Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, declared that Israel "belongs to us, to the white man," in response to a question about Muslim asylum seekers.
The previous month, Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his Likud party, helped incite a wave of violence against Africans after making fear-mongering and incendiary comments about asylum seekers. In one instance, Likud parliamentarian Miri Regev described African refugees as a "cancer in our body" at a rally in Tel Aviv that degenerated into what local media described as a "race riot" in which random individuals of African descent were attacked in the street. Around the same time, a series of arsons and other violent attacks were carried out against Africans in Israel. The situation was so bad that a group of ambassadors from African countries complained to Israel's foreign ministry that African diplomats were afraid to walk down the street. more