Opinion |

Netanyahu Is Bad for Mizrahi Jews

PM couldn’t take David Levy and he drove Moshe Kahlon out of the party. In this week's Likud primaries, the Mizrahim around him had no chance of finishing anywhere near the top.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev during a Mizrahi Jewish Mimouna celebration in Dimona, April 18, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

There has been vocal criticism of Likud’s newly elected Knesset ticket over the white privilege of those at its top. This, incidentally, is mostly voiced by Ashkenazim who have never voted Likud and never will.

But beyond the opportunity du jour to attack the ruling party, whose unbending stability drives all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents crazy, we shouldn’t ignore the more interesting thing that happened here. Likud’s electorate – which has traditionally been comprised largely of Mizrahim – rejected the very people who are supposedly its authentic representatives, and who, again supposedly, flourished alongside Netanyahu.

In the last Knesset term, Netanyahu surrounded himself with Mizrahim who don’t speak the statesmanlike European of their predecessors, people like Meir Sheetrit or even Silvan Shalom. MKs David Bitan, David Amsalem and Miki Zohar, and of course the pioneer of this trend, Culture Minister Miri Regev, ought to have been the great tidings of the ruling party’s Mizrahi revolution.

>> Read more: Netanyahu lost big this week. Here's what it means for the next government ■ Like Netanyahu, Gantz plays on the anxieties of his would-be voters

But in this week’s primary, all of them won disappointing places on the ticket – including Regev, despite her efforts to proclaim success. A prominent minister like her, who reaped most of her political capital by attacking those identified as the old Ashkenazi elites and was bolstered by the support of the prime minister and his family, should have come in first.

Instead, she will now be looking up at Yuli Edelstein, with whom she had a head-on clash over the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony, and who campaigned in the primary as a “statesmanlike” candidate, i.e., the anti-Regev; at Gideon Sa’ar, who admittedly has a Bukharan mother, but looks and sounds above all like a sophisticated European nationalist; and at Gilad Erdan, who, despite a rather unsuccessful term as head of the Public Security Ministry, once again managed to captivate Likud voters with his white yuppie charm.

Netanyahu is seen by Likud voters as a revolutionary, and they stick with him zealously – partly because he has repeatedly brought them to power, but also because his burning hatred of the elites is authentic. This is true despite his Ashkenazi ethnicity, well-connected family and great wealth.

But the Mizrahi generation that Netanyahu promoted, even if it periodically made militant statements about the ethnic issue, was confined mainly to demonstrating blind loyalty to the leader and submissive fawning; it was subjugated by its slave mentality. A scene that illustrates this well is what happened at the aforementioned torch-lighting ceremony last Independence Day, when Miri Regev tried to please her mistress, Sara Netanyahu, by hugging her shoulders and trying to get her to sway to the sounds of the song “Nishba.” The prime minister’s wife didn’t exactly melt into the embrace and the shared “dance,” and aside from the rigidity of her upper body, she gave Regev only a forced, embarrassed, arrogant smile in exchange.

Netanyahu couldn’t take former Likud minister David Levy, and he drove Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon out of the party. In his era, no Mizrahi leadership capable of threatening his hegemony arose; indeed, no other leadership at all developed. The Mizrahim who surrounded him never had any chance of reaching the top, or getting anywhere near it. They served mainly as grateful, snarling guard dogs who protected the “man of the people” image of a leader who lives the most imperial lifestyle ever seen here.

And lest these accusations sound racist, all this is being said openly by Likud members themselves. Because they didn’t want to go up against the classy Benny Gantz with MKs Nava Boker and David Amsalem. They wanted to run with the carefully ironed suits worn by Yariv Levin – who is far more dangerous and extremist than the Likud’s electorate – and by Nir Barkat, whose net worth is estimated at hundreds of millions of shekels.

Are these men authentic representatives of the people’s party? Definitely not. But Likud members decided that they’re better than Bitan and his ilk.

This reaction by Likud members, and consequently the almost complete cleansing of the ticket’s top 10 slots of Mizrahim, is entirely Netanyahu’s doing. Netanyahu is bad for the Mizrahim.