Monday, May 25, 2015

Mizrahim absent from Obama's view of Israel

David Bernstein in the Washington Post observes that President Obama (in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg) has a curiously out-of-date image of Israel - rooted in the 1950s and 1960s when the country was dominated by Ashkenazi Labour. As Matti Friedman has written, this image is at variance with the Israel of today - a Mizrahi nation.

President Obama gave an interview to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg

The Israel of kibbutzim (kudos to Obama for using the proper Hebrew plural), Dayan, and Meir, was perhaps a more idealistic, and certainly more socialistic Israel. But it was also an Israel dominated by a secularized, Ashkenazic elite.
Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries), though more than half the population, were marginalized at every level of society. Discrimination was to a large extent institutionalized; the governing Labor Party was run by socialistic Ashkenazim, and given that state capitalism dominated the Israeli economy one’s political and social connections (protectsia in Hebrew) went a long way toward determining one’s economic prospects.

The kibbutzim in particular were a font of anti-Mizrahi chauvinism; as late as 1985, when I stayed for three weeks on a far-left Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, the teenage kibbutzniks casually and derogatorily referred to the Moroccan city kids staying on the kibbutz for the summer as “shechorim” (blacks) (for what it’s worth, the Moroccan kids were much nicer than the kibbutzniks).

The cozy Labor/Ashkenazi dominance of Israel was upset by Menachem Begin’s stunning victory in 1977. Begin put together a coalition of anti-Socialist Ashkenazim, religious nationalists, and especially Mizrahim. Since then, Begin’s Likud has dominated Israeli politics, and the Israel of Kibbutzim, Dayan, and Meier, has been replaced by the Israel of Begin, Ofra Haza, and high-tech. Mizrahim, while still lagging somewhat economically, are much better integrated into Israeli society, have a very high rate of intermarriage with Ashkenazim, and have come to dominate the Israeli music and food scenes.

Israel, in short, has gotten more Middle Eastern, and its populist politics reflects that. But that’s natural given that most Israelis’ families have lived in the Middle East for hundreds of years. Meanwhile, national religious types are increasingly prominent throughout elite Israeli society, over a million Russian immigrants have been successfully integrated, and Israel has welcomed, but struggled to integrate, one hundred thousand or so Ethiopian Jews.

Read article in full


Sylvia said...

Speaking of Mizrahim absent from view,historian Robert Wistrich has died last week.May he rest in peace.

Ben said...

Wistrich was primarily a scholar of European and Christian antisemitism, but he also wrote about Muslim antisemitism.

Ben said...

Obama expressed no sympathy for Mizrahi Jews when he addressed the Moslem world in 2009 in his Cairo speech. He expressed sympathy for the Palestine Arabs, and described the absence of a Palestinian state as a great injustice, implying that the Jews had wantonly committed this injustice on the Palestinians. For "balance" he mentioned the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust, implying that there was equal weight between the two, and ignored completely the crimes of the Arab states against Israel and the Mizrahi Jewish communities, not least Egypt's.

The speech was supposedly written by a Jewish professor called Stephen Cohen. It reflects not only on Obama but also on many in the American Jewish community, who know little and care less for the injustices and trampling of rights that Mizrahi Jews were subjected to by the Arab states in the recent past.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Ben, I read that others than Prof S Cohen wrote that very stupid and disengenuous Cairo speech. You don't have any proof, do you?

As I recall, Benjamin Rhodes, one of Obama's national security staff took part in writing the speech. Of course many top people in Obama's administration are ignorant.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

A comment above seems to suggest that for Prof Wistrich, Mizrahim were "absent from view." A personal experience of mine may shed some light on this. Some 10 to 15 or more years ago, I attended one of those conferences that are always being held here in Jerusalem on sundry subjects. I believe that Prof Wistrich's Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism was the sponsor or one of the sponsors for this conference. Prof Shmuel Trigano of Paris was a guest speaker. Later in the evening, after the conference, I was at the Shufersal supermarket on Rehov Agron. Lo and behold. Who was behind me in the line for the cashier? None other than both Prof Wistrich and Prof Trigano, who seemed to be rather chummy. They even extended this to yours truly whom they may have remembered from the conference.
This anecdote may or may not shed light on the suggestion made about Wistrich above.

Sylvia said...

Read Bataween's new post above. That's what I was hinting to. It's always difficult to bring up matters of contention while at the same time respecting Kvod ha-met.
But Bataween brought that up beautifully and tactfully. As it should be in these sad circumstances.

We understand Robert Wistrich. He did everything he could. But the pain and the frustration are still vivid.