Does Aryeh Deri plan to revive the slumbering ethnic genie whose role in electoral politics has supposedly receded? You bet, says his friend and long-time political adviser Chaim Cohen, who explains that Deri has good reasons for doing so.
"Discrimination is rising," says Cohen. "Just this Thursday we saw the union between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman. Let me be blunt - there was a Mizrahi named Moshe Kahlon who threatened the white elite of the Likud, they showed him the door, and immediately hooked up with the other white variety."
That economist Shlomo Maoz, also of Middle Eastern descent, joined the Likud this week doesn't impress Cohen, who called Maoz "Netanyahu's fig leaf."
Cohen, 42, loves discussing what preoccupies Shas' new joint leadership, or at least the Deri third of it. He does so using much less diplomatic language than Deri would ever allow himself, but the point is clear: Shas will not give up the pleasure of portraying Likud Beiteinu as the "white" party, hoping it will scoop up a few hundred thousand Sephardi votes in the process.
Cohen castigates those who claim that it's immoral for Deri, who served two years in prison for bribery, to run for public office.
"For 40 years those white groups screwed the 'frenkim' [a derogatory term for Sephardim] up and down," he said. "Tell me, that's moral? They have chutzpah to preach to us what's moral and what's not.
"Aryeh Deri's campaign is going to focus on two major issues: the weaker populations, and discrimination against Mizrahim. We're going to be the 'Iron Dome' of this sector," Cohen said.
What does that mean?
"Just as it was with the army during the [Second] Lebanon War, there's a generation here that thinks you can manage an economy sitting behind plasma screens, moving things left or right," he replies. "Has anyone gone out into the community? Has anyone seen what moving things a millimeter left or right on the screen has done to the people out there? Nobody has any idea."
Deri will fight for the poor, "and for the Russians and Arabs," Cohen said, but added, "Deri came to politics primarily to rid the Israeli public of the shame of discrimination. It exists, in every area. Ashkenazim will never in their lives be able to feel what discrimination feels like. Because they've never seen their daughter sitting at home because she wasn't accepted [into school] for ethnic reasons."
Are you talking mainly about discrimination in the Haredi community?
"There's discrimination in the Haredi community, too, but in contrast to the non-Haredi community, which tries to paper it over, there are times in the Haredi community that someone has your back. In the secular community they don't have that [support] because no one represents that."
Society still has a long way to go, says Cohen. "How many Mizrahim are there at Army Radio? How many at Haaretz? In the media, the army, the treasury, the whole system - you'll come to less than 30 percent. Is that a coincidence?
"So they'll say that Deri is waving the ethnic flag for no reason. Let them prove there is no discrimination and no inequality."
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