This past Saturday, George Amira, an 11-year-old student in Tel Aviv, became an overnight celebrity in Israel when he posted a plaintive video protesting the bullying he was experiencing in school over his appearance and high-pitched voice. In a simple 90-second clip, with no spoken words, Amira displayed the slurs he’d been subjected to on pieces of paper: “homo,” “cheerleader,” “doesn’t belong with the boys.” “Look at me, then at yourselves,” he wrote on a sign. “We are exactly the same.” Amira’s video went viral, racking up over 8,000 Facebook shares and airtime on Israeli television, as well as plaudits for bravery from Israel’s education minister, Shai Piron.
One person who was moved by Amira’s message was Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who has made anti-racism advocacy a cornerstone of his political work, and served as a vociferous defender of the rights of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens long before he was sworn in as the country’s 10th president in July. This week, Rivlin met with Amira and his family, and commended the youth on his courage. The two then filmed a message modeled on Amira’s video for the entire country, condemning “violence, hostility, bullying, and racism.” It was released this morning, just days before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Watch it below with English subtitles (click the caption button on the bottom-right if not already enabled):
Rivlin’s video is part of a growing anti-racism effort being spearheaded by Israel’s leadership, in the wake of disturbing outbreaks of racist violence and demonstrations in the country, directed against both Arabs and African migrants. In August, Rivlin told Jewish leaders that he would be embarking on anti-racism crusade, saying, “This is a terrible evil and a disgrace to Israeli life, which must find ways to isolate and uproot it.” Earlier, the country’s Justice Ministry under Tzipi Livni produced an edgy anti-discrimination ad which juxtaposed a haunting rendition of Israel’s national anthem with scenes of social exclusion. Livni herself spoke out forcefully against anti-Arab racism and incitement on social media during the recent Gaza conflict, while the country’s education minister Shai Piron devoted the opening weeks of this school year to an anti-racism curriculum.