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Israeli Black Panther: Mizrahim must boycott the elections

Since its establishment and until today, not a single election has fundamentally changed the status of Mizrahim in the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’ Now we must use the only tool we have left at our disposal and refuse to participate in the game altogether. 

By Reuven Abergel

Mizrahi activists protest outside Finance Minister Yair Lapid's house, north Tel Aviv. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Mizrahi activists protest outside Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s house, north Tel Aviv. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, the upcoming elections represent something new. The establishment of the Joint List is the result of the utter failure of the establishment to divide the rule different Palestinian political currents. In the wake of Avigdor Liberman’s racist attacks, the oppressed Palestinian public forced its representatives to unite. But for the Mizrahim, these elections bring nothing new to the table – the existing parties have nothing to offer them. This is why I am calling on Mizrahim to boycott the elections, in order to send a clear message to the Jewish parties that they do not represent us.

For the first time in its history, the “Jewish and democratic” state will have to face a large opposition that truly remains outside the realm of the ruling class. The prime minister will be forced to report to the Joint List about all peace talks with Palestinians, and will need to think long and hard about how to continue to control important committees such as the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. Palestinian citizens, along with Jews who support the struggle for equality, will vote for the Joint List.

However, we must remember one thing: since its establishment and until today, not a single election has fundamentally changed the status of Mizrahim in the “only democracy in the Middle East.” The opposite is true: the situation of Mizrahim has only become worse in the wake of every election cycle. Don’t believe me? Read the reports by the Adva Center, the National Insurance Institute or the OECD. As opposed to Palestinians, who have been historically excluded from the political system as a group, thus forcing them to organize on a collective level, the attitude toward Mizrahim was always the opposite: to break down and spread out Mizrahi political activism among the different parties. How did they do this? Every few years, the leaders of these different politicians get on stage and promise the Mizrahim the exact same illusions – that the change they so need will only come if they vote for him or her.

Time after time, the residents of the neighborhoods and the development towns fall into the same trap and choose their “representatives” with great hope. This time, they think, they have finally elected the people who will make every effort to get the Mizrahim out of the human catastrophe that the state has created and maintained in the periphery and the hoods. Time after time, the people become sorely disappointed once the elections are over and the system returns to its routine of oppression. The large, well-funded campaigns evaporate as if they never existed, campaign managers laugh all the way to the bank, the political parties disappear from both the struggles on the ground as well as from the Knesset. You won’t find them struggling for public housing, neither in Kfar Shalem nor in Givat Amal, whose homes were stolen by the state and whose residents were thrown into the streets. You won’t find them where actual politics are taking place.

The Kadoori, Hamias and Ashram families sit near an improvised Shabat dinner table set near their demolished houses in Givat Amal neighbourhood, Tel Aviv, Israel, September 19, 2014. Two days passed since the third eviction of families in the neighbourhood which left 20 residents homeless without proper compensation or alternative housing solution. By: Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org

The Kadoori, Hamias and Ashram families sit near an improvised Sabbath dinner table, near their demolished houses in the Givat Amal neighborhood, Tel Aviv, Israel, September 19, 2014. Two days have passed since the third eviction of families in the neighborhood which left 20 residents homeless and without proper compensation or alternative housing. (photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

This is how the elections cause the State’s citizens, and specifically the Mizrahim, to forgo their power as citizens, to invest the money they don’t have – not to mention their time and hope – in a new patron, one who will ostensibly redeem them. And when they dare ask their elected officials the simple question: “Where are you?” they always get the same answer: “The people elected us, now be quiet.”

Servants of white hegemony

Take a look at the last elections. We participated in those elections, and what did we get for two straight years? We watched so-called clashes between members of the coalition, while they transferred billions from one to another under the table. Our memory span is short. The last war cost NIS 11 billion. And then, after two short, bloody years, the prime minister declared new elections at the price of NIS 2 million – all in the name of a new “democratic” adventure; one that we are to believe will bring the social revolution.

Why do people live in this world? How much does a person truly ask for? People want to be healthy, they want to be able to eat, they want a roof over their head, they want to earn a respectable living, they want a good education system for their children, they want to be treated with respect for who they are when it comes to their nation, their ethnicity, their religion and their gender. But because these things do not exist – to put it mildly – in Israel, and especially in the periphery, politicians take advantage of our short memory span in order to make promises and get elected. The problem is that the political system is not interested or even able to provide us with these things, since it was built to protect the interests of a specific group: the white group.

Meretz, Labor, Likud and Jewish Home are supposedly different parties with different interests. But let’s not get confused: they all belong to the same camp, the rest is simply a masquerade meant to confuse the public and give it the illusion of change. Meretz and Labor are part of the white hegemony, which includes the wealthy kibbutzim and the moshavim, while the Likud and Jewish home represent a different sector of the same hegemony, including the no-less wealthy West Bank settlements. The ultra-Orthodox parties, both Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, serve the white hegemony time after time in exchange for money for their communities. As long as they do not challenge the social order, the establishment will trade them their allowance in return for silence.

Shas MK Aryeh Deri (Photo by Activstills.org)

Shas MK Aryeh Deri. The ultra-Orthodox parties grant the government legitimacy in exchange for stipends for their communities. (Photo by Activstills.org)

My friends, it is time to wake up. These elections will not give Mizrahim what they want, no different from previous elections, regardless of who we vote for. The role of these elections is nothing more than to grant legitimacy to the way in which the elites divide the loot. These parties aren’t looking for revolutions – they are looking for legitimacy. The only relevant question is whether we will give them the legitimacy they are looking for.

After decades of lies, most Mizrahim have understood how the game works. Most residents of the neighborhoods and the development towns – 40 percent of Jewish voters – do not even bother voting. This is due neither to despair nor to ignorance, as some analysts like to claim, but rather to a complete and utter lack of trust in the political system. Not only do they receive nothing from the elections, they also pay the cost of maintaining a political system managed by the ruling class through taxes, wars, unemployment, lack of medical care, etc. The periphery is undergoing a decline in every aspect of life, and these parties have no shame in asking for another two billion shekels for the sake of early elections.

Read more: Why Mizrahim don’t vote for the Left

The different political parties are obviously busy trying to slander one another while making false promises in order to cause that same 40 percent to vote. They are truly outdoing themselves this election: they promise allocating land to the landless and a country with no impoverished elderly or hungry children – a state that truly sees all of its people as humans. But the simple women and men know that there is nothing behind these promises. Not because it isn’t possible, but because the political system and the well-organized groups it represents are not truly willing to pay the price that will make these promises come true. Those same invisible people refuse to put their trust in parties that promise to bring about revolutions that will never come. The political system knows this. It knows that it won’t be able to convince 40 percent of these people to vote for it. But according to their political calculus, 60 percent is still enough for a “majority” – enough to dupe the public into believing that their government actually represents the majority.

As an ally in many struggles in this land, and after innumerable disappointments from Israel’s political system, I have come to the conclusion that it is up to me to change the rules of the game. Since most of us do not challenge the system in the streets, the only tool we have left at our disposal is our refusal to participate in the game altogether. These political parties expect that 60 percent of the population will vote for them out of despair or belief in their promises. They hope that they will be able to declare that they have the people’s mandate, all while kicking us out of their homes and taking away our future and that of our children. I have become convinced that the only way to have any influence in these elections is to prevent them from doing this to us. To deny them the moral legitimacy they expect to receive from us.

I call on Mizrahim, my brothers, sisters, neighbors, relatives and acquaintances, on all the Jewish residents of the periphery, not to vote in these elections. If we manage to convince 15 percent of the Jewish periphery to boycott the elections, we will create a situation in which no party will have the moral authority to establish a government. We will prevent them from getting the one thing they have wanted from us all these years: to use our hopes for their own good.

Reuven Abergel is a social justice and human rights activist, and one of the founders of the Black Panthers in Israel. This article first appeared in Hebrew on Haokets.

What Mizrahi activists really want: A ten-point program
Why Mizrahim don’t vote for the Left
The struggle for Mizrahi recognition isn’t limited to Israel

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    1. Jello

      I have never understood how boycotting an election could have much impact other than helping the ‘other’ side win in the case where the boycott is from one side of the political map. In this case the call to ‘boycott’ is a general call to opt out of the political process for ‘Mizrahim’ which are all over the political map. It is utterly retarded and useless and can have no political impact.

      In democracies the winner of an election has the legitimacy to rule. A group of people not voting that consists of 5-10% of the electorate would have no impact in the matter. In every possible way this approach is stupid.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Absolutely Jello. I can think of nothing more futile than the argument that since voting has done nothing to improve the lot of the Mizrahi, then not voting would teach the corrupt political leadership a real lesson. If you want to teach them a real lesson start voting with you even more disadvantaged Arab brothers who share the same problems as yourself – the political problems of marginalisation, the economic problems of pauperisation, the cultural problems deriving from Ashkenazi elitism, and national problems resulting from the diversion of funds into a militaristic enterprise that benefits only the fat cats of the military industrial complex, rather than investment in social and educational infrastructure. Granted you do not share the same religion as your Christian and Moslem brothers but in a properly organized state where religion and politics are separated that would be neither here nor there.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          Indeed, voting as a bloc for some protest party would have a bigger effect than a boycott. Of course, the Unified Arab Party has a platform that leaves no real place for any Jew that doesn’t embrace the elimination of Israel, so that isn’t really a viable path for the vast majorities of Mizrahim which are Israeli patriots.

          The Arabs and the Mizrahim don’t actually have any shared problems. The communists have been trying to pretend/wish/dream some sort of shared movement into existence for about 50 years now and have consistently failed to find more than a couple of the most Ashkenized Mizrahim to believe them. But they will keep trying, bless their hearts, because they are thick as walls, and no amount of failure will convince them that their idea is more hopelessly unrealistic than ever.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            Regarding shared problems did you not listen to Mr, Abergel: he complained about being “servants of white hegemony”, about wanting “to be healthy, they want to be able to eat, they want a roof over their head, they want to earn a respectable living, they want a good education system for their children, they want to be treated with respect”; they don’t want “wealthy kibbutzim and the moshavim… and no-less wealthy West Bank settlements.” Seems non-Jewish Arabs and Jewish-Arabs are in exactly the same boat, and need to make common cause, and when you finally get there you will have reached the promised land and can be proud to call yourself Israelis.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            Reuven Abergel represents himself and a few other has-beens of a failed social movement.

            It, or rather similar social movements, have consistently failed in trying to get Mizrahim to see themselves as “Jewish Arabs” or to sign up for a “common struggle” with the Arabs. It is an especially hopeless mission now that almost none of the Mizrahim (younger than 60) speak Arabic and are fully and completely engaged in Israeli Hebrew culture. Mizrahim overwhelmingly want Israel to continue to be a Jewish state and that is precisely what the Arab parties are unified against. There can be no common movement because their desires are diametrically opposed, and no amount of quasi-marxist class garbage is going to change that.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Pedro X

      Ruben Abergel is a long time radical protestor in Israel without significant support. In 2012 the Jerusalem post described Ruben Abergel as follows:

      “Black Panthers founder Ruben Abergel became a social worker and an ideologue of radical protest movements.”

      Abergel knows that there is little support for his agenda in the Mizrahi community. So instead of running a political party in the elections, he seeks to prevent people from exercising their democratic franchise in favor of anarchy.

      If things were so bad for so long, one would have thought that people like Ruben Abergel would have formed their own Mizrahi party to effect change and elected many members to the Knesset with the millions of unsatisfied Mizrahi people. In fact, Abergel was part of the Black Panthers which ran as a party in Israeli elections in the 1973 election and did not pass the electoral threshold of 1% at the time. Only a small fraction of Israelis supported this fringe party.

      Eventually a leader of the Black Panthers, Charlie Biton, won a seat in the Knesset with the Arab Balad party in 1977.

      The fact is that the division which Abergel tries to wedge between Israelis whose background is not related to the Jewish in gathering from Arab and Muslim countries and those whose background is related does not exist for the vast majority of Israelis. There is no us and them in the Jewish Community in Israel. There are only fringe ideologues who seek to create such a division.

      Reply to Comment
      • Baladi Akka 1948

        “Charlie Biton, won a seat in the Knesset with the Arab Balad party in 1977.”
        Nope, he was elected on the Hadash-list. Balad didn’t even exist in 1977….

        Reply to Comment