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Blood is Thicker than Water: A Different Sort of Racism

Alyssa Goldstein
February 26, 2012

by Alyssa Goldstein

So last I was here, I left you with the promise that I’ll look more closely at anti-miscegenation stories like the ones on the Yad L’Achim website and the racist assumptions they make about Palestinians. But they’re not the racist assumptions you were probably expecting!

Here’s what I was surprised to find. In any anti-miscegenationist literature, you might expect that men of the disparaged racial group are warned against because they are “racially inferior,” or have not yet “progressed” to an appropriate cultural level. Going into writing my senior thesis, I would not have expected Israeli anti-miscegenationists to call Palestinian men racially inferior, since members of this movement generally (though not always) attempt to distance themselves from charges of racism. The second explanation would have seemed more likely. Literature that attempts to dissuade Jewish women from entering relationships with Palestinian men almost always centers around claims that Palestinian men are abusive. I would have expected the authors of these accounts to claim that Palestinians have not “culturally advanced” to the proper level of respect for women. However, I did not come across a single account that suggested that “progress” was possible in Palestinian society at all. As I write in my senior thesis:

Palestinian society is portrayed as far more static. The Yad L’Achim website states that “blood is thicker than water, and if the man is Muslim or Christian, sooner or later he will seek to undermine the relationship.” This statement suggests that there is something intrinsic to Muslim and Christian Palestinians that make them both violent and fundamentally different from Jews. Likewise, a woman interviewed in Maayan Jaffe’s series “When Israeli Women Marry Arab Men” on Israel’s channel 7 news declared that “You cannot make it married to someone of another religion... He will not understand you and you will not understand him.... He can’t change; he received his worldview from his mother’s milk.” By using highly symbolic bodily terms like “blood” and “mother’s milk” as a shorthand for cultural and religious differences, anti-miscegenationists evoke the kind of “cultural fundamentalism” that also characterized the Small Communities legislation. Sociologist Nancy Stolcke used the term to define the ideology of the European Right, which sought to exclude non-white immigrants while attempting to avoid charges of racism. As opposed to the ideology of racism, which justifies separation, exclusion, and inequality between groups of people based on “biological” traits, cultural fundamentalism “attributes the alleged incompatibility between different cultures to an incapacity of different cultures to communicate that is inherent in human nature.” Cultural fundamentalism reifies cultural difference, often under the guise of respecting it.

Though Stolcke claims that references to quasi-biological terms like “blood” are generally not part of the discourse of cultural fundamentalism and fall instead under the rubric of racism, I would argue that the use of the terms “blood” and “mother’s milk” in these writings is, in fact, indicative of a cultural fundamentalist attitude. With a few exceptions, members of the anti-miscegenation movement take pains to distance themselves from charges of racism. Neither Jaffe nor Yad L’Achim’s writings claim that Palestinians are racially inferior, or make any reference to race at all. There is little to suggest that the writers believe that the Palestinians’ “worldview” is literally transmitted through blood or breast-milk; in fact, the Yad L’Achim article that refers to blood goes on to claim that violence towards women is justified by the Qur’an. Rather, these terms are metaphors for a notion of culture and religion so rigid that they may as well be racial characteristics.

Racism: it only gets sneakier!