I am not one to follow beauty pageants. Least of all those held in Israel. I am not going to get into the Halachic issues here – which do exist. As it pertains to this post it is a side issue. I am, however, going to get into another troubling issue – that of racism.
An article in the Forward cites an Israeli journalist that actually asks the question about whether Yityish Aynaw deserved to win the title Miss Israel. I don’t think that question has ever been asked before about any other winner of that title. No matter what she looked like. Why did he ask it here? Can anyone guess? Well, just in case you hadn’t noticed, the color of her skin is black. Here is what he said:
“I think it is really great that an Ethiopian-born woman won our national beauty pageant, I really do. If she were also beautiful it would have been even better.” Right! He thinks it’s great! And some of his best friends are…
What a disgusting comment! It is truly sickening when skin color becomes an issue in any circumstance. To say that someone who won a contest is not really all that beautiful but was chosen for political reasons in only this case is an insult to both the winner and to an entire race of people.
It is also an insult to me and to anyone with any sense of human dignity. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That this journalist doesn’t think she is beautiful may in fact be true. Maybe he doesn’t. I will even grant that beauty pageants are political and winners are chosen for reasons other than physical beauty.
But this has always been true. And yet I don’t ever recall anyone saying that a beauty contest winner in Israel was not beautiful enough to have won. To do so now seems to show a certain degree of racism that is deeply buried in the unconscious mind of that journalist. He probably isn’t even aware of his own racial bias. Or… maybe he is and is disguising it by putting it in political terms.
Israel has recently been accused of racist tactics with respect to its Ethiopian immigrants. I don’t know how true that is. Although there is racism among some of its citizens as was pointed out last month by an op-ed in Ynet. But when journalist post messages like this on his Facebook page I think it exposes a certain degree of it. Even if it is only in the unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind dictates a lot of how humankind behaves. Decisions are often made that are racially biased and yet not realized as such by the decision makers.
I do not mean to impugn Israel. It is not a racist state. Far from it – despite accusations to the contrary. No one has done more for the plight of Ethiopian Jewry than the State of Israel. They have attempted mightily to mainstream these new immigrants and have achieved a measure of success in doing so. The fact that Miss Israel was an officer in the IDF at age 21 demonstrates that.
But the fact that there still exists this kind of subliminal thinking seems to be true as well. When journalists question why a black woman won a beauty contest – even if it is disguised as referring only to this particular black woman – it impacts on public opinion. I think that is sad. That he said it only on his Facebook page – perhaps thinking only his “Friends” would see it – makes it even sadder. That would mean he knew his comment wasn’t all that Kosher.
I’m sure that there are many (hopefully most) Israelis that do not have a prejudice bone in their bodies. But obviously there are some who do have a bone or two in their bodies that is prejudiced
Those who do, like this journalist – need to work on their attitudes and root out any and all prejudice whether conscious or not. It is the right thing to do.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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