Saturday, November 15, 2008

Avodah Aravit

Benjamin Emanuel's outburst shouldn't end up being a problem for his son. I have this image, in fact, of Rahm and Mary Rose Oaker of the Arab-American Anti-Defamation League beginning to grow closer as they share stories about the various ways their parents have embarrassed them ("And then at my graduation party, he started making jokes about how professors never did any real work...to the dean"). It certainly doesn't reflect on Rahm, or on Obama, or really much of anything. By the time anyone even reads this post, the whole incident will be forgotten.
What should be the real story is the extent to which avodah aravit, "Arab work," has long been an Israeli idiom meaning work that was either so demeaning that only an Arab would do it, or had been so shoddily done that only an Arab could have done it. Now, this is by no means the most serious problem facing Israel, and it doesn't mean that Israel is an illegitimate colonialist puppet state or anything like that. But it means that there's a level of vulgar prejudice that his become normalized to more of an extent than most of us (= Jews of a certain kind of sensibility) would like to recognize.
Now, it's one thing for an oppressed minority to keep its spirits up, to maintain a level of self-esteem, by demeaning the oppressor. For Jews in Eastern Europe, jokes about "dumb goyim" may have had some value. But now things have changed, both in America and Israel, and cracks about non-Jews - we won't even talk about the "shv" word - have no excuse at all. Of course avodah aravit doesn't even have the excuse of being a post-ghetto atavism; it's oppressor language, pure and simple: a way of justifying exploitation by reinforcing the idea that the exploited don't deserve any better.
We've got no business talking like this. Let's cut it out.

2 comments:

MGM said...

What's the "shv word?"

MayaG said...

what's the shv word?