A letter to the woman at at the Tel Aviv asylum seeker protest

By Zoe Winograd, May 25, 2012

After seeing the image of an Israeli woman wearing a vest with the message 'Death to Sudanese', as part of protests against African workers in South Tel Aviv, I wrote a letter:

Dear Miss Vest Wearer,

"Death to Sudanese" in Hebrew written on your vest, splashed about in the Tel Aviv air like a Nazi flag or a Pol Pot letter. Please Miss Vest, I don't entirely understand what you mean? You want Sudanese people to die. Not live. Not breathe. This is your message?

Do your neighbours upset you? Fine. Do you not like the way that people in your suburb conduct themselves? Fine. Has someone you known been assaulted? Ok. So write on your vest, "I don't like noise", "I don't like rubbish", "I don't like violence", "I don't like rape". These messages all have meaning that try to better society, to fix problems. These words place you in the pain, they have a point of view, they are protesting the issues. Even if I still do not agree with the message, at least with these words I understand your view.

The words you chose to use, however, have no meaning except for expressing an inherently racist message. Here is my word: Irate.

Maybe if we break down your words I'll cope a little better.

Death. Your desire for people to no longer live. For mothers and fathers and children to stop feeling the warm sand on their feet and instead the cold soil underground. Such overwhelming hatred towards soft-skinned, child-bearing, water-drinking human beings, that you want them to die? This is what the word death means right?

Forget the disturbing immoral implications – reason enough for anyone to be unnerved - calling for death without any fair trial is inherently undemocratic in a country that is, or tries to be, democratic. You are protected by this, and the people you hate are protected by this. Indeed, it is this exact system that allows you to express your views openly even if it offends people like me.

And if you do not want the privilege of democracy then there are plenty of countries nearby that are much less concerned about these matters. Especially in the case of women.

This leads me to the second word: Sudanese. The people from the country of Sudan. The Sudanese, as an entire people, many of whom are running away from atrocities afflicted upon them in their home country. There may be individuals from Sudan, who have upset or hurt you, but you must know that the people of Sudan, as a whole, do not need to die, yes? So why use this word? The only term that would have been more offensive, would have been "Africans". Imagine replacing the word Sudanese with the word Israelis, whites, blacks, Swedes, New Zealanders. Do you think it is acceptable for anyone to want an entire race to no longer exist? What is the word genocide in Hebrew?

Miss Vest Wearer, I am a Zionist. I believe in the state of Israel and in the beauty of a Jewish state. I also believe in the rights of Arabs, Russians, Eritreans, and the half Mexican half Canadian that lives upstairs. I believe xenophobia and racism have absolutely no useful role in society. I believe you have a right to freedom of expression as long as you are aware that you hold great responsibility to say something meaningful and real.

Protest needs a real message. That is what I would write on my vest.

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Last updated: 2:37pm, June 18 2012