Who's Israel's Real Ethnic Demon?

That there is discrimination against Mizrahim is not in dispute. The question is how this demon got into the bottle and what sort of demon it is anyway.

yossi klein
Yossi Klein
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yossi klein
Yossi Klein

The first episode in the series “True Face: the Ethnic Demon” aired this week on Channel 10. I asked Amnon Levy, the series’ creator, what the “ethnic demon” is and what it looks like. Levy says the demon is the silence surrounding the insufficient presence in public life of Mizrahim, Jews of Middle Eastern or North African heritage. This demon, which is to say the silence and disregard, is according to him responsible for a long chain of discrimination that begins with the absence of Mizrahi figures on banknotes and ends with their relative lack of representation on the Supreme Court.

I agree with Levy that there is ethnic discrimination and always has been, but why “demon”? Perhaps because the “ethnic demon” and its ramifications are intimidating. It can be violent, as in Wadi Salib in the late 1950s, or demanding like the Black Panthers in the 1970s. Nobody wants Black Panthers today, neither the discriminators nor the discriminated against, and that is why everyone is silent.

Every once in a while someone does rise up and complain about discrimination, but he is immediately ganged-up on and silenced. He is warned that he might awaken the demon − that at any moment now it will emerge, and then what? Don’t even ask what will happen then, they say. But everyone knows that nothing happens, that nothing is going to happen.

That there is discrimination against Mizrahim is not in dispute. There is no dispute over its history and none over who is responsible for it. Nor is there any dispute over the existence of a sense of discrimination. The question is how this demon got into the bottle and what sort of demon it is anyway. Is it a hot-tempered and vindictive creature that will settle accounts with those that shut it up in a bottle, or is it just an exhausted and tail-dragging demon, one that no longer scares anyone?

In my opinion, we are dealing with a weak and used-up demon that no longer frightens anyone. A demon that is truly angry does not wait for a television series. A real demon would have long since settled accounts with those who locked him up for 65 years in a bottle. Politicians know that the ethnic demon could easily have toppled governments, but today they are no longer afraid. They are not afraid of screwing over the Mizrahim today, because they know that in any event the Mizrahim will vote for them tomorrow.

According to a poll published in Haaretz, the poor Mizrahi and religious always vote for the right, which is screwing them over today, and will always vote against the left, which screwed them over yesterday. Nothing will avail the left any more: It can promise to make the Mizrahim happy and wealthy, and they will vote against it. Tomorrow belongs to the discriminators, and the silence to the discriminated against. They kept silent during the protests in their name two years ago, they kept silent when their public housing was taken away, and they will keep silent when they get hit with more taxes, too.

The ethnic demon is no longer scary; it lives in harmony with both the discrimination and the discriminators. Albeit not wealthily, but at least happily.

No matter how much you shake the bottle, a demon will not come out. It had opportunities. It could have come out at election time and it could have participated in the demonstrations, but the poor, by whose right it exists, always stay home. No poor person likes being poor. Poverty is not only a daily plight; it is also an existential one. Poverty is backward, underprivileged towns, and backward, underprivileged towns are bad schools, and bad schools are bad jobs, and bad jobs condemn the poor person to eternal poverty. And then, when he is already mired in poverty, he remembers to shout that he is being discriminated against.

The Panthers in Jerusalem understood the entire process and the protesters in Wadi Salib took to the streets to contest it, but today’s poor still have no idea how they wound up in this mess. Someone is making sure they remain clueless. That person is afraid they will take the demon out of the bottle if only they are able to grasp who made them poor and why they will remain this way. The demon will then be violent and merciless. It will not be the ethnic demon that nobody cares about; it will be the social demon that scares everyone. The social demon is the one shut up in the bottle − not the silence Amnon Levy talks about.

The social demon actually is scary. It scares the one who knows this demon is capable, if it only wished, of kicking him out of government. It scares the one who knows that the conflict is not between Moroccans and Poles, but rather between poor and rich. His biggest nightmare is that the Ashkenazim of Rothschild Boulevard will join forces with the Mizrahim of Kiryat Malakhi. So he makes an effort to move the conflict onto the ethnic field. Go on, he says, Mizrahim vs. Ashkenazim, war. Have fun.

The Mizrahi poor he dispatches to tilt at windmills and battle tin fortresses. Go after the Ashkenazim ensconced there, he suggests. Leave the big guys out of it, leave Dankner alone, forget about Tshuva and stop gunning for Zion Keinan. Think small, go after your Ashkenazi neighbor, the four-eyes who listens to Leonard Cohen all day. He has deprived you already of the people of Israel’s tradition; he will yet deprive you of the Land of Israel. After all, the people of Israel’s tradition is more important to you than education and the Land of Israel more than an apartment. Forget about the Panthers, says he who is scared of the social demon, go after the Ashkenazim, go and bash your heads against that wall, maybe that will make you feel better.

Black Panthers demonstrating in the 1970s.Credit: Daniel Rosenblum / Starphot

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