Friday, August 23, 2013

Is the 'ethnic demon' manufactured?

 The Israeli development town of Yeruham

Inspired by an Israeli TV programme on 'the ethnic demon', Seth Frantzman, writing in the Jerusalem Post, joins the fray, blaming the Israeli elites either for denying their racist history, or for blaming the victims for complaining. (In my view, discrimination in the 1950s was a fact, but how much of it was unintended - the result of Eurocentric, socialist planning? For instance,  a three-room apartment satisfied the needs of a four-person Ashkenazi family from Romania. Offering the same to a family from an Arab country with nine children is bound to appear discriminatory. )(With thanks: Lily)

Too many Israelis view everyone who complains of racism as manufacturing discontent. Thus, despite widespread slurs against Ethiopians and discriminatory housing arrangements, it is they who have “rancorous feelings,” as if the problem resides in their feelings, rather than the racism that gave rise to them.

It’s like complaining about African-Americans “harboring frustration,” rather than dealing with their legitimate complaints. Few Israeli voices admit that discrimination was rampant and continues to be rampant; the Left refuses to because they were in charge in the 1950s, and many on the Right refuse because they think it hurts Israel’s image. This is why the racism is described as an “ethnic demon”; the complaints about it are the problem, as Shaul Zidkiyah claimed in Davar in 1981: Begin “released” the demon.

Racist history is not a “demon.” The massive legacy of housing discrimination evidenced in the “development towns” and the “periphery” leaves a lasting black mark on the ability of half the country, including Arabs, to make scholastic achievements and thus to succeed professionally. The very invention of the concept of the “development town” being “where Mizrahim belong” illustrates how the ethnic differences were manufactured in the 1950s. We know that the actual educational and occupational differences between many Mizrahi and Eastern European Jewish communities were meager in the 1940s (in some places the two groups lived side by side, such as in Greece). Only in Israel was an attempt made to segregate them as if their religious tradition, stemming from Spain or Central Europe, was also “ethnic.” Those Mizrahim that chose to immigrate to the US instead of Israel achieved similar educational and financial success as their fellow Jews; yet in Israel a tragic attempt made to segregate them and then pretend that their poverty was their fault.

In that way an “ethnic demon” was manufactured. The denial of this racist tendency by some elites and consequent romanticization of the 1950s is one of Israel’s greatest tragedies. Far from a waste of time to study, it is something that every Israeli should learn about so as to correct the mistake. Society cannot simply “recuse” itself and blame the “rancor” on the victims.

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1 comment:

Sylvia said...

Bataween, you're in denial. It's not only a matter of apartment size.

It's much worse than it used to be.