How the Israeli Army's Racist System Harmed Hundreds of Thousands of Mizrahim

The 'quality' score has been the chief classification tool used by the Israeli army over the years to evaluate recruits. A sociologist explains how this mysterious criterion became an instrument of discrimination that caused long-term damage to Israeli society

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General Yigael Yadin at a new immigrant transit camp, in 1950. “Mizrahi soldiers were at the bottom of the military hierarchy of prestige and masculinity.”
General Yigael Yadin at a new immigrant transit camp, in 1950. “Mizrahi soldiers were at the bottom of the military hierarchy of prestige and masculinity.” Credit: David Eldan/GPO
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Almost 40 years ago, long before Benjamin Netanyahu chose to reawaken ethnic tensions in our lives, a turbulent election took place. In the run-up to the vote on June 30, 1981, two large rallies, of the Labor Alignment and of Likud, were held on consecutive days at the same venue, what was then called Kings of Israel Square (today Rabin Square) in Tel Aviv. During the first rally, of the Alignment, entertainer Dudu Topaz famously told a cheering audience: “The people who are standing here are those who fight the wars. The tchakh-tchakhim [or riffraff, a derogatory term for Mizrahim, Jews of Middle Eastern origin] of Likud are the shin gimmels [low-ranking sentries], if they even serve in the army. Here we have the soldiers and the commanders of the combat units.”