Fighting racism and advancing a shared society between Jews and Arabs in Israel
Racism and extremist language have entered the Israeli mainstream, fueled by racist incitement that is spread by extremist rabbis and the activities of hate groups. IRAC sees racism as one of the greatest threats to Israeli society today, and stands at the front-line of the battle. IRAC fights racist incitemen t by monitoring hate speech and hate crimes and demanding that investigations be launched, and public legitimacy and government funds denied to religious extremists that incite to racism. At the same time, IRAC engages in actions that affirm the reality and highlight best practices of a shared and equal society between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Current and upcoming activities:
Campaign against Lehava: Lehava (the acronym for "Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land", literally meaning "flame" in Hebrew) depicts itself as a legitimate organization devoted solely to a struggle against assimilation. Under the false guise of a war against assimilation, Lehava encourages attacks against Arabs and preaches a message of hatred, intimidation, and incitement. Bentzi Gopstein, who heads the organization, is an extreme right-wing activist and follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane's racist and ultra-national philology and has been involved with or inspired his followers to commit dozens of violent incidents. What began with a public campaign culminated with the filing of a major Supreme Court petition against the Attorney General and police calling on the Court to force them to take action against Lehava and Bentzi Gopstein in July 2017. Since filing the petition, Bentzi Gopstein and 14 of his followers were arrested in October, and the Attorney General made the decision to press charges against Gopstein for incitement to terrorism, violence, racism and obstruction of justice in November. Because of our petition, we are finally beginning to see the Israeli police and the Attorney General take action against this dangerous organization.
Arvut Hadadit: In October 2015, we filed a Supreme Court petition demanding that, after a four-year investigation, the Attorney General make a decision whether to press charges against Rabbi Yosef Elitzur (one of the authors of Torat Ha'melech) for writing an article "Arvut Hadadit", meaning mutual responsibility, with explicit instruction for tag mechir, price tag, activities. The editors of the website where the article was published were indicted on this charge two years ago, but the Attorney General procrastinated with regards to the prosecution of Rabbi Elitzur. Finally in December 2016, the Attorney General decided to press charges against Rabbi Elitzur for racist incitement and incitement to violence in his publications. Rabbi Elitzur ignored the court summons he received, and at the beginning of June 2017 the Attorney General filed for his indictment. This is a major development, as Rabbi Elitzur is one of four rabbis to be indicted in the past decade. A court hearing took place in October and the State was ordered to send us their investigation materials by the middle of November and explain why they decided not to press charges against Rabbi Elitzur for the article “Arvut Hadadit.” We amended our petition claiming that “Arvut Hadadit” should be included in Rabbi Elitzur’s indictment.
"Avodah Ivrit" employment discrimination: The "Avodah Ivrit" website, literally meaning Hebrew Work, advertises wanted ads by businesses that hire only Jewish staff and job seeking ads by Jews only. We filed (together with Mossawa) a lawsuit for 50,000 shekels in civil court against the administrator of the website claiming that such blatant discrimination is illegal, violating the Prohibition of Discrimination Act. The first hearing was in December 2015. Meanwhile, the Commission for Equal Opportunity in Employment decided to support our civil suit and join the hearings as amicus curiae. We are also working on this issue with the Knesset Lobby against Racism, and the relevant department in the Histadrut labor federation. There was a hearing on this topic in July 2016. We go the verdict and our victory in October 2017. Judge Einat Abman-Muller ruled that Israel’s values as a Jewish state prohibit discrimination and mandate equality, saying: “The vision of Israel’s prophets became the pillar of fire leading the struggle in support of the weak and the different towards equality.” A hearing for the website administrator’s appeal was held in March at which the District Court rejected the appeal saying that the website must be removed within a week and that they must pay damages for discrimination.
Voluntary Code for Equality and Diversity in the Workplace: As the natural continuation of our "Heroes of Health" report, we are initiating a voluntary code for businesses in cooperation with Tmura - the Israeli Anti-Discrimination Legal Center and the Coalition Against Racism, which will help employers and service providers fulfill both their legal obligations and create work spaces and services that respect equality and diversity. We recently received government funding and will begin applying for additional funding and working towards the launch of the Code.
Racism Crisis Center: IRAC, in partnership with the Coalition Against Racism in Israel, launched the ground-breaking Racism Crisis Center in August 2017. Services are provided in 5 languages - Hebrew, Arabic, Russian Amharic and English, and includes a call center, continuous communication by email, and a Facebook page with clear and accessible information. Since its launch, we have received over 60 inquiries from victims of racism and are working to raise awareness of our services.
The challenges ahead:
The current government has proven a major obstacle towards making much headway on this issue with attempts at blatantly racist legislation. We will continue to persevere by pushing back against such legislation, continuing our monitoring activities, and growing our projects in this area. While the road is not easy, we have begun to see a shift in the public mindset and will continue our work to ensure it continues.