Mizrachi Identity: Another Possibility

Repost from the old site.

It’s little known outside of Israel, but there are two large, distinct groups of Jews in Israel.

Actually, there are four groups of Jews there – Mizrachi, Ashkenazi (Jews from Central, Eastern and northern Europe), Sephardic (Jews from Spain, Portugal, Southern Europe, Turkey and Latin America) and Beta Israel (Ethiopian and other African Jews), but the Mizrachi and the Ashkenazi are the largest.

In fact, until the arrival of the Russian Jews in the 1990’s (many of whom are dubiously Jewish according to Jewish law) the Mizrachi were the largest group of Jews in Israel.

The Mizrachi are the Jews of the Orient, and the largest group of them came from the Arab World and Iran, or, as we like to refer to them on this blog, the Arab Jews (though some of them do not like to be called Arab Jews due to the conflict with the Arabs).

A few Mizrachis also come from the Caucasus, China, Afghanistan, India and Uzbekistan, but their numbers are small. This blog went over many of the issues with the Mizrachi Jews in this popular prior post, The Jews of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Lebanon, so there is no need to retread old ground.

Suffice to say that things have not been easy for the Mizrachi Jews in Israel. The racism of the Ashkenazi elite was appalling in the early days and to some extent, still exists. The Arab Jews had their heads shaved and were sprayed with DDT upon arrival and were housed in squalid tent cities called maabarot.

There are accusations that they were brought to Israel not as part of some lofty Zionist dream but as a source of cheap labor after 800,000 Arabs were ethnically cleansed off their lands and forbidden to return as part of the building of the state of Israel. Israel even kidnapped Yemeni youngsters and gave them to Ashkenazi Jews who had lost their children in the Holocaust.

Years of poverty and off and on employment impacted the exalted role of the father in the family as patriarch. In Israeli popular culture, Mizrachi are portrayed as criminal, violent, unseemly, neglectful and prone to social unrest.

There are two separate school systems in Israel – one for mostly Ashkenazi districts, which emphasizes a college track, and another for the Mizrachi, which emphasizes vocational education and only reserves about 30 or so students out of each grade for higher education.

In the 1970’s, Mizrachi anger exploded onto Israeli streets as Mizrachi youth formed a “Black Panthers” organization and rioted in the streets. Golda Meir ordered a brutal crackdown on this unrest.

Since the early 1980’s, overt discrimination has lessened and the Mizrachi have a higher standard of living, but the gap between them and the Ashkenazi remains, and has possibly even deepened.

Despite their ill-treatment by the state, the Mizrachi have been one of the most rightwing elements of the Israeli population. The Ashkenazi are actually split between Right and Left to some extent, and the Israeli Left is largely Ashkenazi. In 1977 and 1981, the Mizrachi voted in the Likud Party, which accelerated a disastrous rightwing shift in Israeli society.

There were a variety of reasons why they voted for the Likud, including anger at mistreatment by the Ashkenazi elite, the relative military failure of the same elite in the 1973 war and anger over forced secularization of Israeli society.

Most of them now support the Shas Party, a rightwing Orthodox Jewish religious party (the Mizrachi tend to more Orthodox and religious than the Ashkenazi, who tend to be more secular).

This is pretty much the sort of Mizrachi that I have met here in my town and on the Internet – very rightwing, supporters of Ariel Sharon, and harboring deep hatred and especially distrust of Arabs and Muslims. In fact, this is the Mizrachi stereotype now in Israel.

I would like to suggest that there is another possible identity for the Mizrachi than the rut of rightwing politics and fundamentalist religion. See here for a progressive antidote to the usual Mizrachi Zionist national-religious tired line.

That interesting piece attacks all of the right villains for Mizrachi Jews – both reactionary Arab nationalists (who don’t get slammed enough by progressives) and the Ashkenazi elite in Israel, while urging an alliance with progressives from various groups, including Arabs and Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews.

Along the same lines, see the execrable Meyrav Wurmser’s Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question in Daniel Pipes’ journal Middle East Quarterly .

Israeli-American dual citizens and dual loyalists Meyrav and David Wurmser are two of the top neocons in the Bush Administration. They were also two of the principal authors of the Clean Break report, the crazed neoconservative vision that continues to inflame the Middle East.

David Wurmser, working with Dick Cheney’s office, was one of the principal architects of the Iraq War. David and Meyrav were also instrumental in the dual US-Israeli assault on Lebanon last summer. The Wurmsers were part of a neocon cabal in the Administration who urged Israel to attack Syria during that conflict, but Israel refused to rise to the bait.

Wurmser’s piece discusses, from a critical perspective, a number of Mizrachi intellectuals in Israel who have taken the noble stand of post-Zionism. She also notes that post-Zionism is not popular amongst Mizrachis, something even the Mizrachi post-Zionists acknowledge.

2 Comments

Filed under Arabs, Conservatism, Education, Europeans, Iraq War, Israel, Jewish Racism, Jews, Judaism, Middle East, Neoconservatism, Political Science, Politics, Race/Ethnicity, Racism, Regional, Religion, Reposts From The Old Site, Republicans, US Politics, War, Zionism

2 responses to “Mizrachi Identity: Another Possibility

  1. Pingback: Robert lindsay | Graigor

  2. Pingback: Young Arab Jews Open Letter | ikners.com

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