What does it feel like to be thought of as someone who endangers democracy? Sometimes, all it takes is having dark skin, curls and a kippa. Thoughts on Mizrahi identity from Haaretz’s Conference on Democracy.
By Eli Bareket
Several weeks ago I attended the Israel Conference on Democracy sponsored by the liberal Haaretz daily. It was truly impressive. Around 1,000 polite and friendly people attended — those for whom Israeli democracy matters and who could set aside a day. Eva Illouz was also in attendance, and even said a lot of wise things such as, “democracy is a regime in which you do not have to be afraid of who you are.” This was a “wow” moment for me, as she unwittingly succeeded in throwing in a quote by Rabbi Nahman.
After imagining Rabbi Nahman hugging Eva Illouz, I could now imagine myself as part of the panel. I know that they invited people who stood them up. Yes, even Shas’ Aryeh Deri stood them up due to the New Israel Fund’s involvement, but if you have no representation on the stage you can imagine the panel with yourself in it. That way you can participate rather than complain.
So here are some musings of an Mizrahi Jew at the Israel Conference on Democracy.
As a child, I associated democracy with Arabs, and not just any Arabs, but terrorists. I think that one of the few times I was exposed to the term “democracy” was when it came up in the context of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) — democratic, but with a lot of blood on their hands.
I grew up some more and went to boarding school in Jerusalem. There things became clearer. There was Rabbi Meir Kahane who worked the “neighborhoods,” and said either Jewish or democratic — meaning that real democracy cannot suppress the Arabs. Thus, if one really means “democratic,” one has to make room for the Arabs, and if one really means “Jewish” one has to kick the Arabs out.
Read more: Why Mizrahim don’t vote for the Left
And then there were the leftists, the beautiful ones, sometimes called “the bleeding hearts,” for whom democracy was a private, members-only club that reinforced their self image — because they are democratic, they are better than all the Arabs in the neighborhood, and they are entitled to their privileges as guardians of the Only Democracy in the Middle East....Read More