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A Popular New Curse Word in Israel: ‘Ashkenazi’

Eitan Leshem
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Dudu Aouate, the former goalkeeper of the Israeli national soccer team.
Dudu Aouate, the former goalkeeper of the Israeli national soccer team. Credit: Nir Keidar
Eitan Leshem

If you didn’t know, “Ashkenazi” is a derogatory term in the Israel of 2021. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who lives here, certainly considering the clash between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim in recent years. But the origin of European Jews has now become a curse word.

When the Bennett-Lapid government was sworn in, Likud’s David Amsalem contemptuously called it “a government of Ashkenazi tzfonbonim,” referring to privileged residents of north (tzfon) Tel Aviv. His party colleague Miri Regev threatened that “if the Likudniks continue to elect leaders with white DNA, another Likud will emerge, a true Mizrahi Likud.”

Meanwhile, journalist Avishay Ben Haim has embarked on a life’s project: to thicken the line that he sees between the “first Israel” and the “second Israel,” totally ignoring the third, Arab Israel. And then there’s a thriving Facebook group whose sole purpose is to mock everything seen as Ashkenazi.

These are only a few displays of hatred of the Ashkenazim. It’s not uncommon to bump into people who mutter “Ashkenazi” at you as if they were muttering “son of a bitch.”

The latest, noisy addition to the list is the former goalkeeper of the national soccer team, Dudu Aouate. In recent months he has been an especially aggressive tweeter against “lefties,” “tzfonbonim” or “them” – those are among his racist cliches for Ashkenazim, whom he immediately identifies as rich leftists scheming to take over his grandmother’s apartment.

Here are some of his pearls of wisdom: “Us: Nobody can equal grandma’s food! Them: Nobody can equal grandma’s food; we can build a wall in the apartment and rent it out.” “Tzfonbonim, don’t forget to bring something for the holiday meal at grandma’s and the appraiser.” “Fact: [Labor Party chief] Merav Michaeli was a girl who scarfed down snacks on the annual school trip and when they asked her to share she would say ‘it’s my lunch.’”

Aside from Aouate’s obsession with Ashkenazi food (it’s awesome!), he’s doing a great service to dredge up many people’s primordial thoughts about the Ashkenazim. He tweets what tens of thousands feel and say every day. But Aouate isn’t a social media curiosity. He’s riding his tzfonbonim hatred to stardom.

On Wednesday he celebrated his debut on the Sports Channel’s Champions League program. These days, you get rewarded handsomely for Ashkenazi hatred, in case you didn’t know.

Yes, in the Israel of 2021, hatred of the Ashkenazim isn’t only completely legitimate, it’s maybe the only ethnic hatred that goes undenounced. It has also become folklore that even the Ashkenazim take part in. The very word “Ashkenazi” has become an adjective for uncollegial behavior that you should be ashamed of.

Mizrahi food is raved about, Mizrahi music dominates every radio station and everybody wants to wear a Moroccan caftan at a wedding. That’s great, but why trample over Ashkenazim in the process?

When I was in high school, a girl uttered a swear word at me that I didn’t understand, “Ashke-Nazi.” I tried in vain to connect the dots – the Ashkenazim suffered at the hands of the Nazis, so how could they be Nazis themselves? But the word was only meant to offend, to remind the Ashkenazim of their past, to establish a different reality.

Undoubtedly, Ashkenazi hatred is rooted in reality – there are the elites who founded the state and sent many Mizrahi immigrants to the country’s outskirts. There’s the ethnic struggle at Israel’s nature sites – the kibbutzniks trying to protect their turf at the Asi Stream is just one recent example. There’s the male-Ashkenazi domination of all the power hubs.

But part of Likud’s struggle to preserve its political power consisted of making “being Ashkenazi” public enemy number one. And Likud being Likud, the move was carried out blatantly, effectively and extensively.

So Aouate, a man who declares his hatred for kibbutzniks, for “them,” for tzfonbonim, for leftists and for Ashkenazi food has found a place on a respectable stage on Israel’s Sports Channel. In this way he receives a rubber stamp for his stance that Ashkenazi is the most wretched identity in Israel today.

To sanitize Aouate’s presence, Modi Bar-On, the Champions League’s perennial host, launched a nonsensical monologue about the need to reach agreements with the Other. Mr. Bar-On, the Sports Channel wouldn’t have dared invite to the studio someone who makes racist slurs against the Mizrahim. Why are you acting differently with somebody racist against the Ashkenazim?

Inviting Aouate merely underscores that it’s okay to insult the Ashkenazim. Slurs about the Ashkenazim get you ahead. Your parents called the Mizrahim names? Now their children will pay you back. Do you get that, Ashkenazim?

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