Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Will Mofaz's election as PM bury 'ethnic demon' ?

Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz could become the first Israeli prime minister who doesn't have a European heritage. No Sephardi has ever had such a realistic hope of attaining the premiership in the history of the state of Israel, claims Ashley Perry of the Sephardi Perspective blog. But is the 'ethnic demon', which has dogged every Israeli election, dead and buried - or just dormant?

"Mofaz already has an impressive resumé and has succeeded in many positions usually reserved for Ashkenazim. He became one of only a handful of non-European Chief-of-Staffs in the IDF, with the first being Moshe Levi in 1983 - a full 35 years after the founding of the state.

"Unlike many prominent Sephardi politicians such as Amir Peretz, David Levy and Aryeh Deri, Mofaz is not known for being concerned with social and economic affairs. He has only held the transportation and defense portfolios in the government.

"As a result, although considered hawkish, Mofaz has not become identified with 'Sephardi politics'.

"We are not witnessing any backlash and cries of discrimination when Mofaz is attacked in the press and by fellow politicians the way we witnessed it when Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Amir Peretz ran for leadership of the Labor party.

"Indeed, the 'ethnic demon' has been the decisive factor in almost every election ­from the riots in Wadi Salib in Haifa in the 1950s, the Black Panthers of the 1970s, and Dudu Topaz's "chach-chachim" of the 1980s.

"Apart from receiving the blessing of Shas spiritual mentor Rav Ovadia Yosef, which is given to all who seek it, Mofaz has not sought, nor received much of the Sephardi vote.

"This is largely because Kadima members, who will decide the outcome of the race, do not appear to have much of an obvious 'Sephardi agenda'.

"The upcoming Kadima race is being compared to the race between the US' Democratic presidential candidates, with Livni compared to Hillary Clinton and Mofaz in the guise of Barack Obama.

"Obama's campaign has been clouded with references to the skin color of the Senator from Illinois. Whether used as a weapon or as a deflective measure, Obama relates to his ethnicity constantly on the campaign trail. In contrast, Mofaz's ethnicity has hardly been alluded to.

"The simplest explanation for this could be that Israeli society has matured and is ready for an 'ethnic' prime minister. However, recent barbs at Peretz and Ben Eliezer prove that this is far from true.

"Ben-Eliezer was frequently pejoratively referred to as 'Fuad', similar to those who include the middle-name 'Hussein' when referring to Barack Obama. This demonstrates to the listener or reader that the candidate is an outsider and casts aspersions on whether he or she is fit for that particular office.

"However, Mofaz appears not to have suffered thus far in the Kadima race for his ethnicity or his skin tone. This may have more to do with the nature of the Kadima party than anything else."

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