Quick. Look at a map of the world and put an “X” through all the places that should be off-limits to Black residents. Great. Now put an “X” through all the places from which we should ban Muslims. Then, just for good measure, “X” out all the places from which we should prohibit Chinese, Latinos, and gays. Now look up.
Got any “Xs” on your map? I hope not, because the exercise is hugely offensive. Only a hard-core racist or homophobe would base housing restrictions on ethnic origin, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation. The elimination of racial restrictions in housing was among the first, and most important, victories of the civil rights movement in the U.S., and few today would defend apartheid. In fact, we have come so far from the days that racial covenants were standard clauses in real estate contracts that the mere suggestion of such an exercise should generate widespread revulsion.
But, let’s try one more, just for laughs. Look back down at your map and put an “X” through all the places that should be off-limits to Jewish residents. Got any “Xs” on your map now?
It seems that some very respectable people do. U.S. President Barack Obama and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton come to mind, though they are hardly alone. They’ve got “Xs” running throughout the disputed territories of the West Bank, and a huge one in Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods. And it’s not that they oppose construction or renovation in any of these areas; their complaints have nothing to do with zoning, licensing, or environmental concerns. None of these respectable folks seem concerned about the growth of non-Jewish families, neighborhoods, or villages in these areas. Their sole objection is to the construction of housing for Jews.
Does that mean that anyone who opposes this construction is inherently racist? Perhaps not. Perhaps much of the objection comes from folks who recognize that Jews have every right to live there, but who nevertheless consider it unwise for them to exercise that right—sort of the international version of: “I can’t believe you would want to live there. I won’t even take a bus through that part of town.”
Still, you would expect such well-intentioned concern to express itself using words like “unwise,” “unsafe,” or even “reckless.” But that’s not what we hear. Instead, foreign policy officials tend to prefer adjectives like “provocative” (from a UN representative), “illegitimate” (from a State Department spokesman), or “illegal” (from the French Foreign Ministry)—as both The Jerusalem Post and Al Manar report.
More prominent opponents like Ashton and Obama tend to choose their language a bit more carefully. Perhaps they really do mean to show concern rather than bias. But I, for one, would find their concern much more credible were they to start showing similar concern for other ethnic groups by “Xing” parts of the planet off limit to someone other than Jews—all for their own good, of course. Until then, I will have to wonder why the only “Xs” on the map restrict Jewish housing.