Opinion |

Likud's 'White DNA' and Former Minister's Uncritical Race Theory

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
Then-transportation minister Miri Regev at Ben-Gurion Airport in March.
Then-transportation minister Miri Regev at Ben-Gurion Airport in March.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

Members of Likud have already had their say regarding the interview their colleague Miri Regev gave Yedioth Ahronoth, in which she said the time had come for the party chairman to be Mizrahi.

These Likud members keenly understood the damage she was causing the party. Supposedly her comments have been addressed, but unfortunately there are too many people trying to sell the same line when it comes to Mizrahim. She isn’t alone.

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Mizrahim aren’t looking for benefactors – whether they be Ashkenazi or Mizrahi themselves. Mizrahim who live in outlying parts of the country and vote Likud do so because they believe that the party shares their sense of patriotism and connection to tradition and religion. If that’s the case, the need to respond to Regev’s remarks is not because she makes a compelling argument that has to be dealt with intellectually, but because she has added herself to the list of candidates for party leader once the Netanyahu era has ended. That is why she is raising the Mizrahi issue.

After heaping flattery on the father, son and lady of the house, she declared that “the time has come for a Mizrahi prime minister.” She calls on Likudniks to stop voting for “leaders with white DNA” – a racist, regressive statement that has never been aired publicly in Israel. It would be interesting to know in what racial category Regev would place the descendants of those with both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi genes.

The truth is that there isn’t a Mizrahi consciousness in Israel. Even if in recent years there has been a stronger discourse on Mizrahi identity, it doesn’t seem to faithfully represent the sentiment of the greater Mizrahi community. This is primarily because it conveys messages that run counter to the conviction that Mizrahim should integrate into the army, public service and prestigious professions such as law, accounting and medicine.

Regev’s mistake is therefore conceptual, and she also takes it to the personal level. She blames the lack of appreciation she receives on her being a “genuine Mizrahi,” not on her consistent destructiveness and pomposity in public. Such traits might be able to convince her base of supporters in Likud, but they would not go beyond that. It’s therefore no surprise that Regev is threatening that if Nir Barkat or Yisrael Katz is elected to Likud leadership at the end of the Netanyahu era, she would establish an alternative with a different DNA, a “genuine Mizrahi Likud.”

A “genuine Mizrahi Likud” of Regev’s type is the dream of every opponent of the party, who would be delighted to see it headed by people such as Regev and David Amsalem rather than those who really represent the Mizrahi public and the periphery. After all, it’s not by chance that Netanyahu hid her and her friends during election campaigns. He didn’t think they had major electoral value.

Ultimately, Regev is conveying a racist message designed to encourage division and divisiveness in Israeli society and to promote herself. One could add the regret she expressed that she had changed her name to Regev from her original Moroccan name, Siboni. I have friends who changed their Ashkenazi names – from Sheikovitz to Shai and from Novogrodsky to Nir. They wanted Hebrew names, as did Regev, before she was exposed to the Mizrahi philosophy of journalist Avishay Ben-Haim, which she then enlisted to serve her political aspirations.

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