A Demand From the Mizrahim

The Mizrahim have no choice but to fight for equality, without insisting on Ashkenazi acknowledgement of the injustice caused them.

We have to remove from the discussion of the "ethnic demon" the intolerable demand — in the context of the obsession with political correctness — to love "everything Mizrahi" (belonging to Jews of North African or Middle Eastern origin), and to be left with the main thing: The repeated discrimination against Mizrahim in Israel has not been solved. Yes, my parents too, as part of a pioneering minority, did backbreaking work in the 1930s and 1940s. Their work is no justification for discrimination, and is not very good even as an explanation. The strict division of labor was done in the 1950s and 1960s, when the "mass aliyah" was brought here in order to fill the abyss that had been created after the destruction of European Jewry.

This division of labor dictated most of the present-day disparities: the cheap labor of Mizrahim in services, construction, infrastructure and industry. Sending them to the periphery perpetuated a financial inability to move to the center of the country. On the other hand, those years were also characterized by Ashkenazi (Jews of Central and Eastern European origin) proximity to the centers of power and capital (some of which were created even before the establishment of the state), ownership and management of means of production, reparations from Germany, good schools and the ideology of modernization. According to this ideology, the founding fathers and their people — most of them from towns in Galicia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania — "developed" the immigrants, including educated bourgeoisie from large and developed cities such as Tehran, Baghdad, Alexandria and Casablanca, in order to build the land and populate its margins, when in fact they held them back. That story has yet to be told in full.

That ideology grants legitimacy to this day to the theory of "gradual development." Like any theory of stages, this theory also assumes a future concession on the part of the privileged, who are dependent on the gap: At some point, it is said, they will even help to get rid of it, of their own free well, when conditions are ripe.


In the absence of any real opposition — not Shas — the national pie will always add up to 100 percent, and it will always be divided by those who possess it. All that is simple. All that arouses fierce opposition, because the future portends great unrest. The occupation and impending war have become a means of postponing the eruption.

The question is not who will succeed in changing Israel by awarding the Israel Prize to an inferior poet of Mizrahi origin, but by means of radical change. The political question is which force will impose a change in the economic and social relationships. It must come from the left, mainly because the map of discrimination and poverty is more heterogeneous than ever: Arabs, Russians, Ethiopians.

But there is truth to the arguments raised by Mizrahim against the leftists, that they easily identify with Palestinian suffering but find it difficult to identify with the distress of the Mizrahim. The truth is that even genuine identification with the Palestinians does not require surrendering any of the things that build the "Israeli." On the contrary, solidarity with the Palestinians entrenches a kind of "Israeliness" on the left, and paradoxically, actually strengthens identification with "Western values." The Mizrahi Jew is demanding something more difficult from the Israelis — not only to change the balance of powers in the distribution of work and capital, but to bring about a change in the definition of the subject. In that context the leftist is being asked to negotiate, not over Palestinian distress as an object, but over what is self-evident: "I'm a (Western) Israel." For example, the leftist disdain for religion does not change in their contact with the Palestinians. It must change its relations with the Mizrahim.

The Mizrahim have no choice but to fight for equality, without insisting on Ashkenazi acknowledgement of the injustice caused them. They have no better allies than the left, which acknowledges the justice of their struggle. There is nothing like the elections for local councils to begin the change in the leftist hierarchy. The hasty Meretz race for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality is a repetition of the sin of arrogance. The loyalty of the members of Hadash to "A city for everyone," headed by neighborhood activist Aharon Meduel if they overcome the herdlike Tel Aviv trendiness — is one of the windows now offering the start of a journey.