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Israeli Jews With Mideast Roots Must Shun Identity Politics

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Culture Minister Miri Regev speaking at the Haaretz Culture Conference, March 6, 2016.
Culture Minister Miri Regev speaks at the Haaretz Culture Conference, Sunday March 6, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

Like any elitist group, those who fight for the cause of the Mizrahim – Jews with roots in the wider Middle East – also keep track of who’s a brother to the cause and who isn’t.

And so we saw the attacks on Daniel Ben-Simon for his Hebrew-language book “The Moroccans” and the accusations that he was a collaborator with the oppressive establishment – because he was interviewed by Haaretz and because he chose a leftist political path. Those who fancy themselves the leaders of the Mizrahi struggle were outraged.

Ben-Simon was denounced because he failed to meet his critics’ exacting standards. Peace Now director Avi Buskila has also failed apparently. After another Mizrahi called him “kind of a sick joke” on Reshet Bet radio, I didn’t hear any Mizrahi intellectuals rushing to his defense, nor did I ever hear any of them coming to the defense of singer Achinoam Nini. Well, she’s certainly no Miri Regev.

These Mizrahi leaders’ insistence on supporting the racist, inflammatory and violent rhetoric of Culture Minister Miri Regev, just because she’s Mizrahi, is racist itself. With their blind support just because she’s Mizrahi, they’re essentially denying her the autonomy to hold a viewpoint or develop an aesthetic.

For some, she’s simply a Mizrahi minister, so she deserves all their support, even if her crude measures and lust for power are harmful to many, including many Mizrahim. Any criticism of Regev is immediately decried as racism and chauvinism.

A person is entitled to hold right-wing views and hate foreigners even if he’s Mizrahi. Most of Regev’s critics, myself included, are protesting the values that she has brought into the public arena, just as these critics oppose the values brought by Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Motti Yogev, and Likud’s Yariv Levin and Anat Berko.

The Mizrahi struggle suffers from a prioritizing of the injustice done to our parents over our children’s future. While it’s clear that its leaders are leftists in the most banal sense of the word, among them are people who see no problem attacking Labor for the wrongs committed by its predecessor Mapai. They gladly accept total support in Likud while adopting the campaign tactics of Benjamin Netanyahu’s people – that Likud is the party of the people and Labor is the party of the Ashkenazi elites.

Funny how Labor has twice been headed by a Mizrahi politician, something that can’t be said of the “party of the people.” When images work so well that even the intellectual elite embrace them, facts have no value.

While I admire all members of this group who have enjoyed success, they’ve developed this very unfortunate habit of constantly checking and judging others. They decide who’s a “good Mizrahi,” and anyone else is soon labeled an Ashkenazi wannabe, which is “even worse than being Ashkenazi from birth.”

There’s nothing wrong with a group or community coming together around a shared cause. But it’s problem when it closes itself off to all criticism, to a different viewpoint or to views that deviate even slightly from “the party line” and haughtily denigrates anyone who suggests something different. Lofty ideas aren’t exclusive to certain people.

No one holds exclusive rights to being Mizrahi, because there’s no one way to be Mizrahi, just as there’s no one way to be an Asheknazi or a feminist. Every movement throughout history has only benefited from a range of ideas and people who were part of it and who had the audacity to express doubts, ask questions and make proposals. That way we all benefit.

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