Opinion |

Israel's Mizrahim Are Trapped Between Two Worlds

The border between the residents of the distressed neighborhoods and their fury concerning the refugees, and the liberals on the left who call them racists – this is our place.

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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Miri Regev at a Likud event.
Miri Regev at a Likud event.Credit: Shlomi Day
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

I would like to try and answer the questions Emilie Moatti presented in her article (Haaretz, March 21), which she directed at Prof. Eva Illouz (Haaretz, March 10) and Dr. Merav Alush Levron (Haaretz, March 17), because there is no better time for it.

The election buzz, the uproar over the new public broadcasting corporation and opposition leader MK Isaac Herzogs efforts to put together an alternative government – these are further reminders that the support for Likud by Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin) is mainly turning their backs to the parties that represent the white, well-off, educated tribe – and this is not guaranteed to last forever.

A social democratic party is the natural home for workers, for people who need educational, social and pension services – and MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) represents them, not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is immersed in a life of luxury and who has torn away all the safety nets supporting them.

True to the finest traditions of Judaism, I will answer these questions with a story: A decade ago, Haim Oron decided to establish a new movement to join up with Meretz and bolster it. In order to bring in new and fresh blood, youngsters like Amos Oz, Gila Almagor, Uzi Baram and, of course, Yair Garbuz announced their involvement.

I was invited to the founding event, which, naturally, was held at the Tzavta theater in Tel Aviv. In the end, I realized something deep and depressing about the situation of people such as Illouz, Alush Levron, Yair Assulin, Moatti and myself; and about the limbo in which we exist.

As I left, I turned to one of the organizers. I told him that if they didnt want to disappear in coming elections, they should start speaking to the electorate that exists outside of the north Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv. Such as in the hardscrabble Shapira neighborhood, for example, or Sderot.

He gave me a tired look, as if the necessity of speaking about those of Moroccan or Bukharan origin is outside the bounds of politeness, and said it was not really important to them at that moment. I cursed him silently and swore I would have my fingers cut off before I cast a ballot for this party. And I have kept my word to this day.

This young man was Rami Livni, who a few days ago wrote a eulogy for his father, Yitzhak Livni (Haaretz, March 14), in which we learned how far the apple had fallen from the tree. For some reason, he felt the need to describe Israeli culture, the people who had placed another layer in it and another brick. And this was his partial list of those with the rights of ownership: Yaron London and Moti Kirschenbaum; Danny Sanderson, Nili Mirsky, Naomi Shemer and Yehonatan Geffen. That is the way it should be done! Ethnic cleansing of cultural history. No traces of Dudu Tassa, Yakov Biton or Sami Michael in the narrow world of Livni Jr.

Moatti and Assulin also want to move forward from the stage of the scream, and the sense of pain should be channeled into correction and inclusion. My answer to this: It is still too soon. The greatest harm caused the Mizrahim is to their self-image. They have internalized their lowly standing in Israeli society, they have felt they are the cursed of this world. They, who were a tool to be used by the Jews of Eastern Europe, launched a war of liberation.

These pages of the newspaper, in which our dominant voice has been heard for years, are among the most radical forces of change. Not because my aunt Masouda reads them, but because Livni Jr. and his ilk read them.

In order to restore the faith of our parents and brothers in values that are close to their hearts, we must again tell, explain and condemn.

The border between the residents of the distressed neighborhoods and their fury concerning the refugees, and the liberals on the left who call them racists; between the bourgeoisie (Garbuz) and the con artists among our brethren such as Miri Regev – this is our place. We are trapped between two worlds.

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