Israeli citizens declare: Anti-black racism at Israeli Barkan Wine Cellars is inherently connected to anti-Palestinian racism in Israel
We would like to address the recent case of extreme racism at Barkan Wine Cellars, an Israeli company which decided to remove black Jewish workers of Ethiopian descent from its production lines. In doing so, the company accepts the claim that the presence of such employees can somehow 'contaminate' the product and prevent it from getting the highest kosher certification. (1)
As Israeli citizens and activists who are trying to thwart our government's policies of racism, occupation and apartheid, we stand in solidarity with Palestinian civil society's call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions(BDS) against these policies (2). While most of our activism focuses on crimes committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people, we are part of a broad global coalition which fights issues of racism and colonialism.
One of these global issues is anti-black racism. The very blatant racism against black people in Israel brings to mind some of the most shameful episodes of colonial history. Two trends of anti-black racism are prominent in our society and in our government. The first is the Israeli government's racist campaign to expel tens of thousands of African refugees and asylum seekers (3). This policy is driven by racist incitement of the worst kind, such as by Israel's current Minister of Culture(!), Miri Regev, who called the latter 'a cancer', gaining majority support in Israel for this racist incitement (4). Regev and other public figures who have led the hate-fest against black people have also stood at the forefront of anti-Palestinian incitement.
The second anti-black trend in Israeli society targets Jews of Ethiopian descent. This trend is manifested in police brutality (5) as well as institutional, often explicit, discrimination and marginalization at workplaces and in society (6). This includes attempts to remove Jews of Ethiopian descent from parts of the public sphere. Barkan Wine Cellars, which has done just that, also comes to mind as a company that had operated for many years in the illegal industrial zone of Barkan located in the occupied West Bank. Global BDS-led sanctions forced the company to transfer its operations to Kibbutz Hulda, which is located within the 1967 borders. However, Barkan Wine Cellars still conducts some of its operations in the illegally occupied Golan Heights (7), and the BDS call continues to apply to the company.
Barkan Wine Cellars' racist and illegal conduct throughout the years exemplifies both the severity of anti-black racism in Israel and its connection with other forms of racism. The spirit of racism and colonialism runs deep in Barkan Winery, as well as in Israeli institutions that discriminate, often violently, against Palestinian, black people and other marginalized populations.
We note that a number of Israeli institutions from the Central Rabbinate to the major daily 'Yediot Aharonot', have criticized Barkan Wine Cellars for removing African Jews from their production line, saying that they were fully Jewish. This is similar to defending the rights of Jews to study at American universities in the 50's, a time of segregation and marginalization against black people, based on the argument that the former are fully white. Only in a deeply racist society such as Israel can a supposed condemnation of racism ignore the much larger instance of racism which is implicit in the critique.
We welcome the tremendous support extended by the Black Lives Matter movement to the Palestinian cause (8). The two causes are inextricably connected, and we convey our full solidarity with the US movement. We also note Nelson Mandela's statement, during the struggle for black liberation in South Africa, that "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."(9)
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (aka Boycott from Within)