As African 'refugees' are served with their deportation papers from Israel, there is something disturbing about this cry from Yair Asulin in Haaretz for Mizrahim to rise up in solidarity just because both populations are non-white. Why would the predominantly Mizrahi residents of south Tel Aviv, whose experience of living cheek-by-jowl with the Africans has been less than happy, excoriate the Netanyahu government for taking steps to solve the refugee problem? (With thanks: Sylvia)
The most resounding silence surrounding the refugees’ issue is that of the “Mizrahi movement.” I’m referring to the silence over the absurdity of the refugees’ expulsion and Israeli society’s disregard for the weak. I’m talking about the silence of those who deal with the Mizrahi issue, those who repeatedly seek to point out the racism in Israeli society and smash existing conventions, and who want to challenge prejudiced views about people and human nature.
On the face of it, what’s so surprising? A quick glimpse at almost any newspaper shows that the struggle seems to be between the Mizrahim – “south Tel Aviv,” “Shas” – and the asylum seekers. On the face of it, that’s the story: Are you for south Tel Aviv, are you for the women who kissed Netanyahu’s hand during that visit, the women who look just like your grandmother – or are you for the refugees, the foreigners, the blacks?
This tension also corresponds, of course, to the left-right fault line. It’s troubling to see how Mizrahi rhetoric, by its silence, falls into line with this story, with these old divisions. How it doesn’t rise up against this characterization of Mizrahi as “south Tel Aviv.” How it adopts, almost automatically, the identity that those in power designate for Mizrahim. How come there’s no uprising?
I deliberately talk about “uprising,” because the situation actually provides a real opening to escape from these labels. This situation is an opportunity to break down the order, a chance to say, “We stand in solidarity,” “We are no longer playing this game,” “Israel has deeply, criminally neglected south Tel Aviv since long before the asylum seekers, don’t con us, don’t sell us that nonsense, don’t cover one evil with another.” It’s a chance to say, “This is us.”
And yet, there is silence. We see Mizrahim identify with the old, cynical, degenerate order, with those who in the name of racism want to deport asylum seekers to a bad place. Obviously there is no equating the Mizrahi struggle with that of the refugees. That’s not the argument. Solidarity is something much deeper.