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News ::
19 Jul 2003
Michael Dorfman from Israeli Group “ Russian Panthers against Racism” answered questions from Jacqueline Schaalje of the “Jewish Dutch Weekly (Joods Nederlands Weekblad)”:
- Can you provide me with some background about yourself. How old are you now and how have you become the spiritual father of the Russian Panthers. And also what you are doing in New York if that is not too personal.

Michael Dorfman:
- Really, what kind of a spiritual father am I? If I did any thing, then it was just that I approached them on an equal footing and treated their problems as problems of merit. The point is not in the Russian Panthers. They were a vehicle of loud protest and a method to bring attention to the problems of racism and ethnic violence in Israeli schools. This was a protest against the government’s reluctance and inability to protect the children within the school system. Our real achievement was that we created a networks of support groups for victims of racial hatred. These groups function within the principles of the “Twelve steps and Twelve traditions” as used by the Alcoholics Anonymous, victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence and many others. The victim of racism in the schools has many problems, as do victims of all kind of abuse. This includes the lack of understanding and, sometimes even, the bigotry of their own parents.

Our genuine spiritual father was a Tunisia-born French philosopher and author, Albert Memmi. Our children met with him in Beersheba in1999, when he received an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His works: “Racism”, “Portrait of the Jew”, and “Portrait of the Colonizer” became our handbooks. They gave us an understanding of the nature of racism, combined with the reluctance of Israeli society free at self from its colonist perception.
Memmi showed that colonialism is always followed by racism. Russian, Arabs, oriental Jews-Mizrahim, observant Jews, kibbutzniks, settlers of territories or other minorities aren’t the only ones to suffer from racism. The greatest victim and the one who suffers the most from similar phobias, is the racist himself. The Israeli behaves as a colonizer not only to his fellow countrymen, but also, to the environment itself. Look, they poisoned all the rivers and seriously polluted the water supply. The colonizer nature of the Israeli is reflected in his aggressive driving. My friend, a lawyer from New York City College told me that the fiscal behavior of Israeli government is similar to a colonial administration. The Israeli State isn’t racist, but the Israeli popular culture is undoubtedly racist. It’s about time for Israelis to live in our country as a nation, not as colonists.

The works of French philosopher Michel Foucault, the works of Bulgaria-born French structuralistTzvetan Todorov about Holocaust and Racism, and, indeed, the ideas of Algeria born Jacques Derrida, also influenced our philosophy. Their ideas have helped our children get rid of the chains of the various myths and stigmas.

Once, I heard a discussion by Derrida, where he said that his ideas are very difficult to transfer from an academic world into society, especially to teach in the school systems. I think we were a success with this “transfer”.
If you are not too tedious or formal, then children will intuitively absorb the beauty and harmony of the most complex scientific theories, such as the Deconstruction analysis of Derrida or the Set Theory of Cantor.

Our perception of racism is more European than American. “Russian Panthers” is an oxymoron, having only respect to legacy of Malcolm X and the Black Panther party. A leader of the group "Russian Panthers" Merav Frolova said:" The purpose of our activity is not in hooligan actions or quarrels. We see that "Black panthers" in America as well as in Israel became catalyst of culture revolution that started the process of including subculture of ethnic minority to magisterial society culture". Of course we learned the non-violent protest from such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, as well as from the Russian tradition of Lev Tolstoy and Andrei Sakharov.

- What is the connection between ethnic hatred and bad results in school? Do you think racism is one of the causes that prevent immigrants from succeeding in Israel? How can this be changed?

Michael Dorfman:
- The problem of poor results in Israeli schools is very complicated. The success of Jews in the Diaspora shows, that discrimination and hatred do not exactly lead to poor results in school. The problems of Israeli school are in the lost of traditional Jewish priorities for education; the poor school equipment and finances; the low status of a teacher in society. Compare this to the religious sector, where the teacher is held in high regard. The problem with the 300.000 Russian emigrants students (about 15% of all Israeli students) is that the school system attempts to deal with them logistically and administratively rather than taking into consideration their ethnic mentality. This is why there are many students who are turned off to the school system and become “isolated children” who refuse to learn, hate all that is Israeli and are rejected from the system.Prof. Tamar Gurwitch of Ben-Gurion University has done much good research into this area.
Another problem is that the most and best of the Russian émigré teachers are unable to get to the classroom. Look, because of the bureaucracy, an emigrant, after age 40, is unable to take the examination for their professional license.

These teachers are our inalienable assets, some with 20 years of experience, who have educated the Russian Jewish Intelligentsia. It is no wonder, then, the popularity of Russian private schools, despite all their drawbacks -- such as favoritism and authoritarian stratification. The greatest lack within the Russian independent education is that they teach the sciences but not how to deal with socialization, something that the Israeli schools handle very well.
In spite of these problems, Russian emigrant children are far better achievers than the native Israelis. I have data from the Ministry of Education, showing that the emigrants’ children have lifted the level of achievement in the schools in the periphery towns.

- Why do you call the Russian immigrants a third entity. Does this mean they cannot fit into Israeli society, or that they don't want to, or that Israeli society does not want them?

Michael Dorfman:
- In Israel there is a stock phrase – the First Israel is from the European Jews, the second Israel originated from the Muslim countries. Similarly, I called Russian community - the Third Israel. Actually, Israel, for a long time, was a multi-language, multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-racial society. Also, the Russian community is not very homogenous. For this reason all three statements can be true or false depending on the group to which it is applied.
What is most important, is that Russian emigrants are 100% Israelis, and an integral part of Israeli society. It is time for Israeli society to accommodate this fact -- that Israeli is not only the “Sabra”, but also the pious observant Jew, and the Oriental Jew, and the Russian emigrant These and many other various groups are also Israelis. Even the Russian skinheads in Tel-Aviv or Sderot are Israeli. In fact, unlike other Russian emigrant organizations, Hebrew was a working language in our groups.

- Does the hotline for abused immigrant children exist already? Are there any special programs for immigrant kids now in Beersheva?

Michael Dorfman:
- No, the hotline for abused emigrant children no longer exists. We cannot and must not replicate social services. The goal of the hotline was to set an example for what has to be done. One result was that we began to accept victims of school violence from non-Russian backgrounds. The problem of violence in Israeli school is a very difficult and complex problem.
In the mean time, we continue with our support groups. Currently, we have 34 such groups. There are many anarchical people in this world, and I, myself never, strove to create any kind of centralized organization within these groups. Many groups have taken on their own forms, sometimes far from traditional forms of the anonymous group community. Sometimes, it was possible to help for our guys to get financial aid for university study.

One very important tool has been the collection and documentation of information regarding violence and hatred within the schools. The children themselves gather and analyze the facts. Sometime they share the facts with the media. Where I could, I taught them my understanding of the workings of the mass media. The campaign of the Russian Panthers in 2000 was to inspire a lot of people and to show them an example of effective activity. But in spite of this, as long is the drums of war beat, Israeli society will remain deaf for our message.

- Do you think that Jews in the Diaspora would be hesitant about immigrating to Israel, if they knew more about racism in Israel?

Michael Dorfman:
- No, I don’t think so, on the contrary. Our struggle against racism makes our society more attractive. The stupid Jewish habit is to cover up things, which we don’t like. Moreover, all the talk about changing the “Return’s Law” and pipe laying of some junta to renew the old tribal rules of “who is Jew”, causes more damage to the image of Israel, than all the talks about racism. We live in a post-Zionist society. The Zionist myth no longer works. In 2002, more Jews immigrated to Germany than to Israel. Israel no longer represents a shelter for World Jewry. During a meeting about anti-Semitism in New York, I heard an official from the Anti-defamation Jewish League say that Israel is no longer a part of the solution, but a part of the Jewish problems and troubles. But this is not about Israel at all. This is about the /stale colonial Israeli Myth which still rules our life. Racism is an integral part of this myth.

- Are there any particular schools in Beersheva where ethnic hatred is more pronounced than in others?

Michael Dorfman:

- The level of ethnic hatred in the schools is proportional to the ratio of Russian-born students. The more problematic schools in Beersheva, were the secular high schools: “Makif Dalet”, “Makif Rabin”, and “Makif Rager”, also the religious high school “Makif Beth”. We know there are ethnic tensions and accidents nationwide, in each sector, as well as in ultra-observant yeshibbots, and in the elite Tel Aviv’s schools.
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