The fine line between stereotypes and racism is disappearing- we are readily defined in the minds of other people based on our nationality or religion. Especially now, when we have more and more disputes between countries, in which one can be seen as the overall aggressor. Russia, Israel, North Korea. And what I’m not doing is disputing the importance of these conflicts, or the role these countries have in worsening the situation. But to associate someone with the policies of a country, purely because they were born there, or even just because they speak the language or share the religion of the inhabitants of that country is warped. It transcends the boundaries of rationality, and enters the realm of superstition and unreasonable blame.
We skip the questions which have to be asked before the generalisation is made. We skim over them, because we need someone to associate with these terrible occurrences, to answer for the atrocities effected by the various governments. But this cannot happen.
Chances are we know few Russians. That’s just how it is. But we read about Russia, and Putin’s corruption in the news. We are not disputing that he is corrupt and basically assuming the form of another Soviet militaristic dictator, not at all. He recently ‘took under his wing’ Abkhazia, a former province of Georgia, with the sole intention of exploiting his and Russia’s dominance over the rich land along the Black Sea. The forces in the territory will furthermore convene into one, Russian led army.
The Russian government holds unrivalled power over Ukraine, due to the negotiations undertaken by Ukrainian leader Poroschenko and Putin over the last few years. The Russian government exploits Ukraine in more than one way, with the most recent way being that of blockading the transport of coal to Ukraine. The inevitable consequence of this is simple- Ukrainians who just look to earn a living and stay alive are being robbed of their house fuel for the sole purpose of fighting a war none of them signed up to.
But the presence of corruption in Russia in no way means someone bearing Russian identity is associated with the corruption. The corruption comes in the form of the government, not the people. This assumption suggests that corruption and a desire for expansion is an intrinsic part of the Russian system, that each citizen in Russia is pulling their own weight in the quest to establish more land for themselves and subjugate minorities. It assumes that Russian society is like clockwork, in which every member of the Russian population is intrinsic in and complies with the actions and decisions taken by the government.
This is not unique to the Russian problem either. In fact, the automatic assumption that anyone of Jewish heritage or belief is part of the Israeli ethos or way of thinking is entirely farcical. But again this is due to our perception of Israel. We only know the country through the news, or through other people, who remind us constantly that the Israeli government is subjugating the Palestinian population and slowly drawing their demographic area away. Which is true, the Israeli government have a persistent fear of a ‘third intifada’, and thereby have heightened their control of the Palestinian population, with more riot police and army vehicles sent out to the Gaza strip.
They’ve also responded with the completely unjust closing of the Al-Aqsa mosque, a centre for Muslim prayer in Old Jerusalem. The last time this was done was 14 years ago.
Bear in mind this was at the height of the ‘second intifada’ when Ariel Sharon, the opposition leader in Israel and especially right-wing politically visited the site, sparking wild protests.
Looking at the South African view of the dispute in the Middle East, it is significant that 200,000 people took to the streets in Cape Town to declare Israel a ‘colonial apartheid state’. This cannot be ignored, of course-the fact that South Africans, the clear victims of a racist apartheid regime have designated Israel as a worse situation than was in South Africa, where Palestinians not only face racism, ‘but also face genocide’.
Again this is not something I am disputing. But is there not something inherently wrong with assuming that someone Jewish holds the same virtues and beliefs as Binyamin Netanyahu? Beliefs and religion or citizenship aren’t always parallel, the diversion however is superseded by these myths that anyone Jewish holds an absolute adoration for the policies conducted by the Israeli government in relation to Palestine.
We in the west are in a position where we hear about a lot of events through the news, but the lack of local action means we are in our own bubble, although we may in general ‘understand’ a complicated issue like the Israeli-Palestine conflict, or the situation in eastern Ukraine, we do not know enough. The fact that all we know is that there is conflict in these countries inevitably makes us associate anything to do with that country as involved in the conflict, representing the country’s policies and intentions. It is our responsibility to separate nationality from personality, place of birth from place of mind.
When we watch the news we see Russia, portrayed by Putin-it is therefore in our nation to associate the two with each other. Putin=Russia and Netanyahu=Israel. We are therefore compelled to view any Russian with the same outlook we use to see Putin. What is needed is more recognition of the citizen in Russia and Israel, the citizen who is against the stance his government is taking but does not see this as a good enough reason to leave the country. A country should not be represented by the institution who govern it-it should be represented by the people who inhabit it. People like Gideon Levy, someone who does not make the news but is completely against the government of his country is a figurehead for a movement who want to show their rejection of Netanyahu and the Israeli government, and yet retain their Jewish identity.
Russia and Israel, it has to be said are in the news for bad reasons, and bad reasons only. The low number of Russians and Jewish people in Britain makes it that bit easier to associate them with the policies of their country of representation. We are placing the blame for events like the invasion of Ukraine or the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank on people who have nothing whatsoever to do with the country’s policies. We are scapegoating them with an aim to understanding why these terrible things are happening across the world. It is time for this pathetic outlook to stop.