There is no denying that in Israel there is discrimination and an ethnic divide. Choice quotes from Israel's leaders in the 1950s do betray contempt for Mizrahim – the 40% of Jewish Israelis who hail from Arab lands. As Rachel Shabi writes in Not The Enemy, they were portrayed as 'weak, dirty, poor, culturally deficient and superstitious".
That's because many immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa were poor, badly educated, unwashed and superstitious. Israel took in the most destitute, the poor, the sick, the elderly and the stateless – because they were Jews with nowhere else to go. Those with education, means and connections mostly went to western Europe or the Americas.
Who would not be bitterly disappointed at the windswept transit camps (ma'abarot) which awaited the Mizrahim in "paradise"? Six hundred thousand Jews flooded into the struggling Jewish state in the 1950s: penniless Jewish refugees housed in leaky tents with insufficient food.
But the Israel of the 50s, where European and Middle Eastern culture undoubtedly clashed, is not the Israel of today. Shabi's claim that "Mizrahi ethnic music is banned from public playlists" strains credulity when Mizrahi artists such as Sarit Haddad, David Broza, Dana International, Avinoam Nini and Ofra Haza are all thoroughly mainstream. Chaqshooka, falafel and mujadera are staples of Israeli food. Mizrahim have reached the highest echelons of political life. Israel has had Mizrahi ministers, a president, and senior military figures.
Most importantly, intermarriage is running at 25%. More and more Israelis are the product of mixed marriages. If this trend continues there will be no such thing as a Mizrahi or an Ashkenazi in the Israeli melting pot.
True – Israel initially rejected the immigrants' Middle Eastern culture, mocked their accents and frowned on them speaking Arabic. But Israel also rejected the old mitteleuropean culture and the speaking of Yiddish, for equally ethnocentric reasons. At least thousands of Arabic-speaking Jews were able to put their skills to good use working in Israel intelligence, staffing Israel's Arabic broadcasting networks and setting up departments of Arabic studies in free-thinking Israeli universities that became the envy of the Middle East.Read post in full
Crossposted at Z-word blog