Miri Regev’s Mizrahi Theme Park

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Miri Regev, September 2019.

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence of the racism infecting Israeli society is in the differing attitudes towards two female politicians, both of whom don’t hesitate to stir up controversy and stand at the forefront of political brawls, who don’t hide their ambitions and are not shy about presenting themselves as candidates for leading the country. Both of them rightly enjoy displaying their looks in color feature stories.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked and Transportation Minister Miri Regev of Likud are treated in markedly different ways. The former is considered a promising, popular politician whose ambitions are directly proportional to her abilities – all the way to the dead end in which her political career and her party have found themselves. The latter, however, is a truly canny politician, truly popular and firmly ensconced at the top level of the ruling party, but it is common to relate to her dismissively and consider her a passing episode.

Regev knows this. She has constructed her camped-up image because she understands that the appearance of a strong woman of the Ashkenazi Jewish type might make an impression on enchanted opinion leaders and journalists, but in her world the populist show, a big mouth, lighting candles in Shabbat Shalom videos and the embroidered caftans at the Mimouna celebrations beloved of Moroccan Jewry all add up to a symbolic pile of sweet, traditional mufleta crepes. Oy, the disgrace of it! Regev is the first case known to me in history of “blackface” done by a person of color.

Regev is an especially disturbing exemplar of Mizrahi Jews who cast themselves in a role and play a Mizrahi as though the whole world is the set of “Salah Shabati.” It is shocking and painful and thrilling all at the same time. When everyone was clucking over her remarks about Benny Gantz in an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth – an interview that was scripted ahead of time down to the last line, like everything Regev does – she in fact gave the more interesting treatment to another representative of Mapai, and of which Gantz’s Kahol Lavan is in some senses an offshoot.

“Look what has resulted from one decision by Golda Meir, to dismantle the Ottoman railroad track … from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat.” De facto, her decision in 1969 created the Second Israel, the geographical distance between the First Israel and the Second Israel’ – current code for Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews.

Ah-ha! The correct angle for Regev’s social justice, judging by her deeds as minister of culture, is mainly to raise an uproar and wait out this tiresome year and a half until she can step into the foreign minister’s shoes as stipulated in the coalition agreement. In the meantime, she will build roads and lay railroad tracks on the imaginary territory stretching between the right ear and left ear of television journalist Avishai Ben Haim – Dr. Avishai Ben Haim – who wrote his Ph.D. thesis about Mizrahi religious leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and pontificates about “the new elites,” and she will connect “the Second Israel” to the advancement of her brilliant career, at a time when the First Israel is drying out on the opposition back benches and emitting the sour smell of a sinking career and a perfume called “Fascism” that featured in the campaign video Shaked filmed not very long ago, back when she was justice minister.

Don’t misunderstand – I don’t deny the existence of the social and geographic periphery, the criminal neglect and institutionalized discrimination. But Regev and Ben Haim have built a simulacrum, like the hotels in Las Vegas that have built imitations of the canals in Venice, the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower. Their “Second Israel” is a huge theme park of copied symbols, which prove that Regev and Ben Haim exploit the Mizrahim even more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both of them are building careers from the theme park they have established. Netanyahu understands this and is grinning in admiration. In the words of his emissary Natan Eshel (who, nonetheless, has called Regev a “creature”): “She is doing a great job.”

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