On Feb. 16, a young Taiwanese woman posted on the popular Facebook group Secret Tel Aviv that she was riding her bicycle and a group of Israeli teenagers began to yell “Sinit” (Hebrew for Chinese) and “corona” at her. She called the police in tears. On March 15, a 28-year old Indian Yeshiva student was hospitalized after being beaten by two Israelis in Tiberias because they felt he “looked Chinese.”
A few weeks ago, as the hysteria amid the beginnings of the COVID-19 outbreak began, I turned around in the kitchen at work to find a colleague of mine coughing at me. I stared blankly, and he said, “You’re Asian. This is a little bit of a problem.” I literally had no words. I took my coffee and fled to my desk, speechless. A fearful realization popped into my head: Two things have been spreading faster than the virus itself — misinformation and racism and xenophobia toward Asians —and Israel is no exception.
Even before the pandemic, Israelis made inappropriate comments to me or asked me uncomfortable questions about my origins — from random people on the street asking if I want to clean their houses to cringeworthy men in clubs telling me I’m “exotic.” This pandemic has only amplified these things.
I preface everything I’m about to say with the fact that I truly love Israel and the Jewish people. I am a staunch Zionist who has dedicated most of my career to working for Jewish nonprofits; encouraging young people to grow their relationships with Israel. I run an Instagram account that offers a look into the daily life of Israelis and new immigrants, hoping the world might see that it’s not all wars and camels.
I get it. Asian Jews are far and few between, so if I want someone to speak up for us then I have to do it myself. So I am here to tell you, Israel has a real problem that runs deeper than any virus and needs to be eradicated.
“But how,” you ask? Israel is a country made up of diverse immigrants that fled ant-Semitism, persecution and some of the worst discrimination in the world. However, this is the first time in modern history that the Jewish people in Israel find themselves in a position of power. With this power comes great responsibility — the decision on how to treat minorities in our society. From my personal experience, Israel is missing the mark...