Survey Shows: Israel’s B’nei Menashe Don’t Feel Victims of Racism
March 22) As the Knesset’s Committee on Immigration and Absorption met last week to discuss supposedly serious anti-B’nei Menashe racism in Israel, the results of a Degel Menashe survey indicate that few B”nei Menashe think it exists.
The survey, conducted by phone in late February and early March, included 51 B’nei Menashe adults, selected for age, sex, and years lived in Israel. Fifteen of the respondents were age 18 -32, 25 age 33-60, and 11 above 60. Thirty-four have lived in Israel for 10 or more years, 17 for less. Twenty-eight were men, 23 \women. Each was asked six questions, with three possible answers to each. The questions and their answers were:
In your own life in Israel, have you experienced anti-B’nei Menashe racism a) often b) rarely c) never?
a) often: 3, or 5.9%
b) rarely: 21, or 41.2%
c) never: 27, or 52.9%
From conversations with family and friends in the B’nei Menashe community in Israel, would you say they that most of them have experienced racism: a) often b) rarely c) never?
a) often: 2, or 3.9%
b) rarely: 31, or 60.8%
c) never: 18, or 35.3%
If you have experienced racist incidents, would you say that they were a) always trivial b) sometimes serious c) sometimes severe?
52.9% of the respondents, the same percentage that answered “never” to Question 1, replied that Question 3 did not apply to them. Among the 47.1 % who said it did, the answers were:
a) always trivial: 13, or 25.5%
b) sometimes serious: 9, or 17.7%
c) sometimes severe: 2, or 3.9%
Would you say that racism toward the B’nei Menashe has affected your own life a) greatly b) moderately c) hardly or not at all?
a) greatly: 0, or 0%
b) moderately: 8, or 15.7%
c) hardly or not at all: 43, or 84.3%
Would you say that most Israelis are in their attitudes and feelings a) very racist toward the B’nei Menashe b) slightly racist c) not racist at all?
a) very racist: 1, or 2%
b) slightly racist: 31, or 60.8%
c) not racist at all: 19, or 37.3%
Do you think that, for the B’nei Menashe community in Israel as a whole, racism is a) a major problem b) a minor problem c) no problem at all?
a) a major problem: 8, or 15.7%
b) a minor problem: 29, or 56.9%
c) no problem at all: 14, or 27.4%
“The answers to all six questions correlate well ,” says Yitzhak Thangjom, Degel Menashe’s Executive Director, who was in charge of the survey. “Roughly half of the respondents said they had never experienced racism aimed at them at all, while of the half who said they had, a tiny percentage felt that it was ‘severe’. Almost 85% said that racism, even if experienced by them in some form, had had no effect on their lives, and a similar 85% thought that it was either a minor problem for Israel’s B’nei Menashe or none at all. The same percentage of respondents – 61.8% -- who thought that most B’nei Menashe have experienced racism ‘rarely,’ also thought that Israelis could be called ‘slightly racist’ toward them.”
Could it be, our Newsletter asked Thangjom, that many B’nei Menashe simply do not want to admit that severe racism against them exists, or are embarrassed to say they have experienced it?
“That’s something that only a more in-depth survey might reveal,” Thangjom said. “I would tend to doubt it, though. If anything, the opposite may be true. There is probably a tendency among some B’nei Menashe, especially newer ones in the country, to interpret certain incidents as ‘slightly racist’ when that’s not what they are. We B’nei Menashe come from a culture that stresses politeness and non-aggressive behavior toward others. Israel is at the other extreme. Israelis are uninhibited and inquisitive. We don’t always realize that what may seem to us a rude remark or a nosy question may not be ill-intentioned, or that if we’re sometimes mistaken for Thais or Chinese, this isn’t meant to be a slur. Most of us aren’t aware that many waves of immigration to Israel – from Germany in the 1930s, from North Africa in the 1950s, from Georgia in the 1970s,from Russia in the 1990s – met with a degree of prejudice greater than that facing us. All in all, it’s noteworthy how little antagonism toward them most B’nei Menashe feel there is.”
Many of the respondents, who were given the option of adding comments of their own after answering the questions, agreed with this. As Bat El Rently, 32, of the settlement of Bet El put it, “It all depends on how one perceives the situation. We are unsophisticated people and may not always be able to identify the feelings toward us that are being conveyed. In my 20 years in Israel, I personally have never faced a situation that I would describe as racist. One sometimes has to ask oneself whether it’s racism or just Israeli chutzpah”
Sarah Touthang, 40, from nearby Ofra and also two decades in Israel, commented, “I have never faced racism at all in all the years I have lived in this country. Nor have my children. There are always curious people asking me where I come from. When I tell them that I’m a from the tribe of Menashe, I get compliments and remarks like ‘Good for you,’ never negative reactions. There is always some prejudice in everyone. It depends a lot on ourselves how this manifests itself toward us.”
Most of those who reported having encountered some racism thought it needed to be put in proper perspective, “I’ve faced problems,” said Tuviel Haokip, 54, of Tiberias, who immigrated to Israel in 2018. “I’ve been called a tailandi [Thai] and had fights and arguments. But by now, I’ve learned to handle these things. The most important thing in every relationship is trust. Once you’ve gained a level of trust with your neighbors, your boss, your colleagues at work, the local shopkeeper, these things don’t happen anymore.”
Ruby Lhouvum, 40, of Migdal ha-Emek, who has been in Israel for eight years, observed that “Israel is full of Jews from all over the world. They all have, in their own way, prejudices against those who are not like them. We B’nei Menashe seem more unlike others than most because we look so different. But if you carry yourself well, look presentable, and do your work properly, no one is going to go out of their way to make your life miserable. This is Israel. Everyone is too busy to have time for that.”
Asked why, if such was the overall consensus in the B’nei Menashe community, the Knesset should nevertheless have felt the need to hold a special session on anti-B’nei Menashe racism, Thangjom answered, “I’m sorry to have to say this, but there are some politicians and communal leaders who have an interest in making things look worse than they are. Racism is an easily exploitable subject. You can always look good by raising a clamor over it and posing as a fighter against it. And you can also use it to deflect attention from your own failures.
“The danger is that those exploiting the notion of anti-B’nei Menashe racism may convince the community that they are right, so that B’nei Menashe who have never before felt victims of racism will begin to think that they are. We have many real problems in our community: insufficient integration in Israeli life, not enough upward economic and social mobility, too many youngsters dropping out of school, a lack of confidence in our ability to succeed. If we decide that the cause of these things lies not in ourselves, or in mistaken policies toward us, but in a pervasive racism that is holding us back, we can easily become discouraged and fatalistic about our situation. You can realistically hope to change your own behavior and even a government policy. Changing a society that is endemically racist toward you is something else. Our survey shows that most B’nei Menashe do not feel Israeli society is like that. We should be very careful about telling them that they’re wrong.”