How Can anti-Arab Israelis Complain About Ashkenazi Racism?

My Mizrahi brothers and sisters, only if you denounce the disdain against Arabs within your own community will you have the moral right to protest against racism.

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Screenshot from ad shows an uncomfortable ashkenazi man embraced by two colorfully dressed mizrahi men.
Screenshot from ad shows an uncomfortable Ashkenazi man embraced by two colorfully dressed Mizrahi men.Credit: Ad campaign

Many people were outraged, and rightly so, by the racist advertisement for a residential project in Kiryat Gat that courted the religious Zionist community by promising a neighborhood with no Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin).

The evening before, I saw on the news that residents of Afula – Mizrahim, to be precise – were demanding that the results of a tender for the sale of land in Afula be overturned, just because the winners, the people who offered the highest bid, were, heaven help us, their Arab neighbors. But I didnt hear anyone being outraged over this.

One woman said, We arent bothered by one, two, three. But this concentration, the concentration, the fact that theyve concentrated here, thats what bothers us. That tomorrow Ill have a mosque here, that tomorrow theyll study and [there will be] assimilation in the school. Theyll study with my daughter!!

Another man made the same argument even more pointedly. Im in favor of coexistence – that everyone should be in his own place, he said. He sounded like the United States Supreme Court justices of 60 years ago who justified racial segregation between blacks and whites on the pretext that blacks were separate but equal.

But no, segregation is always between the more equal and the less equal. In a place where there is segregation, there is no equality – not among races, not among sexes, and not among social classes, religions or ethnic communities.

Before raising an outcry over incidents of racism against them, the many Mizrahim who vote for rightist parties ought to do some serious soul-searching. They, who frequently demand respect for themselves, are far from granting such respect to others. People who live in a racist state and act like racists shouldnt be surprised when racism is directed against them as well.

Therefore, Im astounded by how these right-wing Mizrahi voters get so angry when right-wing Ashkenazim demonstrate racism toward them. They, too, only want separation from the Arabs – that is, from the Mizrahim, with their Judeo-Arabic roots, who came from Arab countries and North Africa. The Ashkenazim also dont want to assimilate with the Mizrahim.

My Mizrahi brothers and sisters, only if you denounce the racism against Arabs within your own community will you have the moral right to protest against racism. Otherwise, theres nothing left for you to do but reconcile yourselves to your place in the social hierarchy of the racist state you are nurturing.

As someone who is proud of his Yemenite Jewish heritage, I have never understood Mizrahi racism against Arabs. How is it possible to hate someone who resembles you in so many respects?

I dont presume to solve the riddle of this problems roots. Some of it undoubtedly stems from the racism and discrimination that Mizrahim suffered at the hands of native Israelis and the Israeli establishment when they immigrated during the early years of the state; thus their hatred for Arabs is meant to signify, We, the Mizrahim, arent Arabs. There are also many other reasons that have accumulated over the years.

But how is it possible to flee your familys cultural roots when your own culture is so similar in so many ways to Arab culture? Its evident in Mizrahi culture to this day – in the language, the slang, the melodies of the prayers, the hamsas, the customs and manners, the family-mindedness, the values, the sense of honor, the esthetics, the music and the food.

Our physical resemblance to Arabs wont allow us to escape our origins; we bear it on our skin whether we want to or not. Thus we must choose whether to bear it as a stigma of self-hatred or with love and pride. And anyone who loves the Arab within him cannot be racist toward the Arab who stands beside him. The Mizrahim – the Arab Jews – should have served, and still could serve, as a bridge to peace between Arabs and Jews, not as a wall dividing them.

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