Whose West, Whose East?

The State of Israel marks the border between east and west for its citizens, and all the Mizrahim live on the border.

The State of Israel has molded generations of racists, and it is not clear which is worse: higher infant mortality rates for Arabs than for Jews as a result of discrimination in the health system, successive generations of Arab manual laborers as a result of discrimination in the educational system, the decades-long license given to soldiers to show disregard for the lives and property of Palestinians wantonly, or the attempted lynching in Zion Square.

The lynching attempt is easier to censure. After all, "our hands did not spill this blood," and maybe the time has even come to think about how the "Mizrahism" of Jews from Arab lands has become part of the mechanism that drives the Arabs beyond the boundaries of what is human. The Mizrahi-Askenazi division is not "natural" or "cultural," but "political." Before the category of Mizrahim was created Jews lived in Muslim societies only as a minority, not as "Mizrahim" (mizrah is Hebrew for "east" ). It was only when the state was founded that the category "Mizrahi" ("Easterner" ) was created, as the negative of what the majority was identified with: "the West." Despite this there was nothing "natural" or "cultural" connecting all of Morrocan Jewry to the Jews of Yemen, or of Iran, except for the connection made by the state in their being non-European Jews - and in the fact that their state, which provides identity, defines itself as the west in a war "against the mizrah," the east.

Sometimes Ashkenazim also underwent violent immigration and were forced, in the worst case, to become "non-Diaspora Jews." But Jews from Muslim lands underwent two contradictory socializations, which they must still live with, even if they were born here. The first, into their definition as "Mizrahim," that is, different from the Western majority; the second, simultaneous socialization required them to always, on behalf of the same granter of identity, to give up their Mizrahi identity in favor of being Israeli, which has no meaning except as imitation, or as denial of their past and their parents, and therefore also entails adopting anti-Arab racism. That is how the neurosis is formed. And as if that were not enough, its products are dubbed "arsim" ("guidos" or "chavs" ).

The State of Israel marks the border between east and west for its citizens, and all the Mizrahim live on the border, at least as a response to the constant demand to be "modern" - in other words, not Arab. This wound is opened occasionally in the form of justified complaints of racism and such cultural decisions as becoming religiously observant. But the wound is actually the State of Israel itself, the "Westerner in the East," that defines Mizrahim as a minority that must "meet the standard" - "modernity," combat service, academic achievement and of course belonging to "the West." (Classical music helps. ) It is worth remembering the wearing of kippot and large stars of David in places where a "Mizrahi appearance" blurs national identity.

In this historical tragedy the right has granted the Mizrahim, at least since Menachem Begin's election victory in 1977, a clearer border between east and west than the Labor Party did. From the right's standpoint, the border crosses between all Jews and all Arabs, not between the "primitive" past and the "modern" future, which the Labor movement, the home of the elites and their yearning memories, promised.

The right gave the Mizrahim the possibility of being "Israeli," in other words to hate Arabs and of course leftists, who are a reminder of the previous insulting division.

In this "new" division, Likud is "the People of Israel" and "the new state" it will establish after getting rid of the Arabs and the "elites." The failure of the leftist slogan, "Money for urban neighborhoods, not settlements," that is, the failure of the attempt to build a political barrier between Likud's Eretz Yisrael and the Mizrahim, is connected to the "liberating nature of the occupation, in the sense of rebuilding "the People of Israel." As the conflict with the Arabs grows deeper, the Arabs are removed eastward and the Jews, all of them, finding themselves in the bosom of "the People of Israel," expels the Arabs or at least beats them at night until they pass out. In the West.