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Palestinians are the glue that holds Ashkenazim and Mizrahim together

Sixty-nine years after the founding of the state, the hatred between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim is the greatest threat to Israeli society. Instead of properly dealing with it, all our energy is spent on sowing a collective hatred toward Palestinians.

By Iris Hefets

Israeli Border Police search a Palestinian man near Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, October 23, 2015. Many new checkpoints have been set up in East Jerusalem's Palestinian neighborhoods in the wake of a spate of stabbings in the city. Jerusalem, October 23, 2015. (Anne Paq/Activestills)

Israeli Border Police search a Palestinian man near Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, October 23, 2015. October 23, 2015. (Anne Paq/Activestills)

Whenever “the occupation” is mentioned, someone will invariably ask about difference between Ariel University, in the West Bank, and Tel Aviv University, built on the remains of destroyed Palestinian village Al-Shaykh Muwannis. This subversive question indeed touches on an uncomfortable truth: the narrative of the settlers is that they are no different from those who fought and drew Israel’s borders in 1948. From their point of view, the Ashkenazi Jews who came to Israel in the 1930s built Jewish settlements in the dead of the night, establishing “facts on the ground” in central Israel while partaking in the libertine pleasures of free love and intellectual discourse. In the 1970s, other Ashkenazi Jews did the same, only in the West Bank.

There are, however, many differences between 1948 and the aftermath of 1967. One of them is the role of Mizrahi Jews. While the vast majority of Mizrahim arrived to Israel after 1948 — after the expulsion of the Palestinian people, the razing of Palestinians homes, and the rape of Palestinian women by Israeli fighters — they became active participants in the crimes of 1967.

After the leadership of the Jewish settlement in Palestine and Israel acted on their program to drive out some 700,000 Palestinians — since they were native to the land the Zionists wanted to settle — there was a “demographic problem” that could only be settled through bringing in Jews from Arab countries. Thus was launched a highly controlled and selective transfer of population groups from Arab and Muslim countries.

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Israel’s Ashkenazi immigration institutions enacted a policy of “population dispersion,” in which new Mizrahi immigrants were sent to far-flung areas of the country. They mostly came from countries with colonial pasts or presents, either benefiting or suffering from colonial oppression and collaborating with the colonizer. They arrived in a steady and slow trickle (with the exception of Iraqi Jews, who encountered a different fate), which ensured that communities could no longer function as such and were broken up in the very beginning of the absorption process.

These communities came from a culture that was vastly different from that of the host country and its institutions, a fact that Israel exploited in order to break their spirit and subjugate them to its will. To that end they were resettled in isolated settlements governed by Ashkenazi Israelis, and were classified as “needing cultivation” on the basis of their extraction and were humiliated to no end.

The real estate New Deal

If after the Nakba, many Mizrahim were put up in homes of Palestinians exiled in 1948, after 1967 they were resettled once again.

The pretext to settle Mizrahim in the homes of displaced Palestinians was that Moroccan Jews, for example, would feel at home in Haifa’s Wadi Salib neighborhood, since the Arab architecture should be familiar to them. In practice it dressed up the fight for resources as one between Palestinians and Mizrahim, while Ashkenazim got to preside from above.

As Mizrahim discovered that their properties back home had been plundered, they were sent to live in homes looted by those who robbed them. In short, it turns out that the founding fathers of the nation, who were supposed to take care of us, in fact committed pogroms, thefts, and rapes, and they now were inviting the new arrivals to feel at home and treat themselves to a share of the spoils.

It was no coincidence that a revolt broke out in Wadi Salib in 1959 under the leadership of David Ben Harush, who saw through this tradeoff and demanded, among other things, the lifting of the military regime from Israel’s Arab citizens. Similarly, Mizrahim were resettled in other areas of the West Bank and in Palestinian neighborhoods. The Black Panthers, a movement of Mizrahim that sprung out of the depopulated Palestinian neighborhood Musrara, identified this pattern and came out against it by demanding equal rights for both Mizrahim and Palestinians.

However, after 1967, when Musrara and the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe became valuable real estate property in Jerusalem, the Mizrahim who lived there were transferred to neighborhoods such as Gilo for the benefit of Ashkenazim, who preferred living in Arab houses in Jerusalem.

Israeli Black Panthers, including Charlie Biton, protesting on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, May 1, 1973. (Moshe Milner/GPO)

Israeli Black Panthers, including Charlie Biton, protesting on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, May 1, 1973. (Moshe Milner/GPO)

Mizrahim become the invaders of the Palestinian homes, the supposedly pioneering conquerors actively enjoying the fruits of the occupation and robbery. In other words, after 1967, Mizrahim got a carrot from the government with the explicit recognition that they are entitled to compensation for their treatment at the hands of the Zionist founding fathers. If once they were put into a house that had recently been occupied by a Palestinian family, now the houses were built specifically for them. Only at closer glance does it become apparent that it is located on occupied land.

Thus the Mizrahim become more loyal allies of the government, because they actually have something to lose. If in the 1950s and 1960s the Mizrahim were not unlike those who unwittingly found themselves entangled in the state’s organized crime, after 1967 they become part of the racket and ultimately graduated to positions too senior for them to be able to quit.

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The Mizrahi immigrant who arrived after 1948 did not realize she or he was drafted by the state as a double agent. The few who were aware of the ruse left, rebelled, or became internal exiles. Those who remained began to gradually identify with their handlers and in turn became the handlers of other unwitting victims. Once you become part of the mafia you cannot speak about the crimes it is committing, so you yourself are now implicated. Mizrahim now had families enjoying the spoils of the occupation and have become integrated into the military apparatus. Feminist Mizrahi women were busy cleaning their sons’ IDF uniforms.

In other words, the idea of the Israeli “melting pot” turned out to be a greater success than was ever envisaged, putting an end to the separation between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. Everyone in that pot was boiled in the fear of the fall of the Jewish State and the revenge by those victimized by its rise.

This is the glue that holds together Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, in spite of the hatred between them. Mizrahim can enjoy their Mizrahi music all they like so long as their sons report to the Golani Brigade. That’s the deal, and both parties have good reasons to play their respective parts. If the Black Panthers said “either the cake is for all of us, or there is no cake,” the Mizrahim of the following generations said “either the cake will be an oriental one, or there will be no cake at all.”

Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot dead a disarmed and injured Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016, is surrounded by family and friends as he awaits to hear his sentence in a courtroom at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on February 21, 2017. (Jim Hollander/POOL)

Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot dead a disarmed and injured Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016, is surrounded by family and friends as he awaits to hear his sentence in a courtroom at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on February 21, 2017. (Jim Hollander/POOL)

And it’s a compromise Ashkenazim can live with. Want some marzipan on that cake, dear Mizrahim? Go for it. As long as you also enlist in all the elite units and spill blood in the name of the land your children are buried in, and which you can not longer just leave. It’s not something easily done. Just ask us, the Ashkenazim.

For what truly unites the two aforementioned situations is grief. Let’s take a look at two case studies gleaned from the recent headlines.

It’s good to have a Palestinian in the room

The Knesset hearing on the State Comptroller’s report on the 2014 Gaza War can be seen through the prism of the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide. During the war the entire country was united and everyone was extending hospitality to each other: when the bombing is in the north, the south plays host, and vice versa. Yet once the dust settles and the apocalypse never arrives, everyone comes to realize that the generals lied, quite brazenly, and Jewish soldiers were killed — sometimes by their brothers in arms. Haaretz then runs some anti-war editorial and the next thing you know there is a committee investigating the war’s shortcomings with a view to learning the right lessons and drawing the proper conclusions.

A Palestinian man looking on a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, North Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. According to OCHA, 16,800 homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or severely damaged leaving 370,000 displaced. (Anne Paq/Activestills)

A Palestinian man looking on a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun following bombardment by Israeli forces, North Gaza Strip, August 11, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills)

This time around, after Netanyahu delivered his usual spiel, the mother of Hadar Goldin, who was killed in Gaza, lashed out at him with a sentence any Tel Aviv leftist would agree with: “You made us out into the enemies of the people.” When MK Miki Zohar told her she had gone too far, Goldin ordered him to shut up, saying she doesn’t know who the hell he is in the first place. One can be forgiven for making the conjecture that had Miki Zohar not been Mizrahi, he would never have risen to Netanyahu’s defense. Were his name Benny Begin, he would most likely never have done it in the first place; if he had, Goldin would not have spoken to him that way. For Netanyahu, the Ashkenazi architect of this horror, Goldin feels helpless rage. For MK Zohar she has nothing but contempt — after all, who is he to even say anything?

Goldin was backed by Stav Shafir, who chided the Mizrahi MK, reminding him this is not way to speak to a grieving mother (of course, the fact Hadar Goldin was killed when the IDF used the infamous Hannibal Protocol is never mentioned; neither is the fact it left some 150 Palestinians dead, the same ones who were told that area was safe and they could return there). Goldin and Zohar, revealing the truth about the social divide in Israel in a moment of fury, eventually come to their senses and the former extends the olive branch saying “we all send our kids to the army.”

Order is thus restored and everyone is now mad at the Palestinians, represented this time by Joint List MK Jamal Zahalka. The holy fury directed at him acts as the social glue holding the people together. Until the next time.

Alternative Memorial Day

Another “uniting” moment can be observed in the violent scenes unleashed by the minions of right-wing rapper “The Shadow” against the predominantly Ashkenazi attendees of the leftist Alternative Memorial Day rally this past April. The buildup was already rife with incitement: the event was framed as an existential threat to Israel, and Palestinians were prevented from attending it. Filmmaker and photographer Ayelet Heller, who attended the ceremony, filmed the moment the public left the event, documenting the violent attacks by some of those who momentarily forgot that we’re all “one people.”

The right-wing protesters’ hate for Ashkenazim was dressed up as patriotism, making it all right to beat them up in the name of the law and turn the racial hierarchy on its head: in one fell swoop, the violent outburst achieves revenge, does away with internalized inferiority, and creates an ecstatic illusion that the underdogs are now in charge.

The video shows a group of wannabe tough guys, mostly Mizrahi, chanting “death to Arabs,” “death to leftists,” and other standards aimed at the “traitors.” The bellowing is briefly punctured by the Memorial Day siren. As it begins to fade out, the calls for death resume.

This scene, more than words ever could, perfectly exemplifies why Israel needs wars against the bad Arabs. Such moments place inhibitions on the hatred between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim that is ready to burst through the veneer of social unity. And since that animosity poses the greatest threat to the state, it is also the one most studiously swept under the rug. Instead of trying to solve it, leaders try to sublimate it into fear, hatred, and violence against Palestinians.

The state built on the ruins of Palestinian homes in 1948 can try to disavow its fundamentals, yet such attempts come crashing down when faced with reality. Having locked up the previous homeowner in the attic, you are now trying to get along with your rowdy neighbor who hates your guts. The memorial sirens help, but only just enough.

Iris Hefets is an Israeli psychoanalyst based in Berlin, and the former editor of the Kedma website. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Translated from Hebrew by Philip Podolsky.

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    1. Firentis

      The translation is horrible. I thought I was reading the writings of a bitter teenager. Then I go read the Hebrew version and instead I find that this is clearly the work of a bitter old person. Whoever translated it butchered a Gideonesque piece of anti-Israeli propaganda. Shame.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Grandpa Frost

      Does the author actually believe the gibberish she wrote? If so, she should immediately check herself into the mental hospital. There is a much simpler explanation for why the Jews don’t fight each other the way the Arabs do. You don’t need the social justice hocus pocus above. Most Arabs follow Islam and most Jews… well, guess what, they don’t follow Islam. And one more thing, let’s put any notion of equality to rest. Then we won’t need as many obfuscations and as much mental gymnastics.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        I think it is a little simplistic to view solely through the spectrum of religion. The Arab world is riven by tribes, clans and submission to authority. Diverse views are expressed vehemently but things roll on until society moves one way or the other.

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        • Ben

          This kind of unwitting admission could only be made by someone oblivious to what he is transmitting: i.e., that he holds a view of the world in which a person’s ethnicity is all-determining, that a person of a certain ethnicity MUST think and act a certain way towards others not like him and could never reach a plane that transcends these traps–which is a thoroughly racist viewpoint, and a viewpoint that, displayed, makes the author’s case for her.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Correction: This comment of mine was intended to be addressed not to the above, but to your other comment on June 3, below:

            “Since the contributors of 972 magazine are made up of journalists from many sectors of Israeli society, one must conclude that they spend much of their time at each other’s throats and disrespecting each other on a daily basis.”

            Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      Really hit bottom with this one. The writer says “Sefardim and Ashkenazim hate each other”. who says? Yes, there were ethnic tensions decades ago, but with the rise of the Likud to power 40 years ago, and the SHAS party’s rise in the 1990’s, all sectors of society have their rightful share of political power so this tension has largely dissapated. SHAS did try to play on this in the last election campaign but they lost 1/3 of their seats. so that simply does not play anymore. Add to this the high rate of intermarriage between the different edot, and the whole ethnic divide will end up being eliminated entirely, with a new generation of young people who have mixed ancestry, which will make ethnic identity irrelevant to them.

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      • Mark

        Since the contributors of 972 magazine are made up of journalists from many sectors of Israeli society, one must conclude that they spend much of their time at each other’s throats and disrespecting each other on a daily basis.

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    4. i_like_ike52

      This piece is part of the conspiracy theories that are very prevalent among all totalitarian type mentalities. This says that everyone would be fine except for a small coterie of evil people who get together and manipulate the innocent masses.
      This piece is a good example of the “progressive” anti-Zionist conspiracy theory. It says that Jews are NOT a nation and have no sense of peoplehood, but the evil Zionists managed to brainwash the masses of innocent Jews into thinking they are a people. This is the Shlomo Sand conspiracy theory.
      Another was given by Amir Perez of the Labor Party. He claims that the Jews from the Middle East had it very good there and there was no antisemitism (why did his parents leave Morocco then?) but because of supposed Labor Party racism, the Edot HaMizrach turned to the Likud who then brainwashed them into thinking that the Arabs don’t like Jews. It is interesting that it is HE who is the racist because he is saying the Edot HaMizrach are stupid and allowed themselves to be convinced of things that weren’t true.

      Let’s turn to the Muslim world. Radical Islamic theorist Sayid Qutb wrote that anybody who thinks “rationally” will realize Islam is the true religion and would observe it in the strict Salafist manner, but the fact that they don’t is due to the fact that the “Crusaders” (i.e. Christian Europe) and the Jews have conspired together to brainwash innocent Muslims into not following Islam the way Qutb thinks they should.

      19th and 20th century Marxists convinced themselves that the proletariat would naturally follow the International and have adopt Marxist ideology, but the reason they haven’t is because the small clique of capitalists have conspired to brainwash them workers into supporting non-Marxist political parties.

      All of this is based on the bedrock belief that most people are stupid and are thus vulnerable to one “conspiracy” or another who “brainwashes” them. Only the elite, like Iris Hefetz, or Sayid Qutb or Amir Peretz know the truth. Frankly, it is good she lives in Berlin, I am sure she is much happier living in a country like Germany with its impeccable record of human rights over the last couple of centuries. Germans have never been brainwashed so they will think like she does.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Germany in fact has a far, far better human rights record since 1945 than Israel since 1948. It’s not even close. The Germans put you to shame. So I wouldn’t go around making cheap, facile comparisons you can’t back up.
        As for the article above, it is poorly written but makes a valid point about the Israeli need for external enemies.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Since 1945? 1945? What happened in 1945 that you should pick that date, and not, say 1935?
          Okay, let’s talk about post-1945. There were two Germany’s, remember? ( Recall the famous comment by a French comic who said “I love Germany so much I am glad there are two of them!”). What was going on in the East one? Do you remember the Stasi secret police that had the highest number of civilian informers of any country in the Communist bloc?
          Or maybe you want to talk about the other Germany. You know, the one that built Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare infrastructure.

          Yes, the writer of this piece should feel right at home there.

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          • Ben

            I said the Germans not the Russians! And like I said, it’s not even close!

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          • Ben

            And speaking of the East Germans, guess who’s behaving like them nowadays:

            “A race is apparently on between senior government figures to see who can float the most radical right-wing idea, who will emerge as champion basher of leftists and their liberal values, who will move Israel further away from democracy and who will undermine the country’s international legitimacy in the most effective manner. The frontrunner on Sunday was Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who wants to impose a stifling “code of ethics” on Israeli academia, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was running a close second after suggesting that Israel kill off its human rights NGO’s by banning their foreign funding. Rest assured that their cabinet colleagues are plotting their own moves in order to get back in the race. 
            The bigger brouhaha was sparked by Bennett’s plan to impose a so-called “code of ethics” on Israeli universities. The code, drafted by Tel Aviv University Professor Asa Kasher, would forbid university lecturers from, among other things, expressing support for “specific positions in a known public dispute,” which, in Israel, could mean just about anything. The proposed code of ethics would set up a supervisory body in each university, which would deal with students’ complaints and monitor lecturers to make sure they don’t stray from the guidelines. The classrooms of Israeli universities and colleges would be patrolled by thought-police platoons.”
            read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.795087

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            Please do not forget that students go the the university to study. There are many other places for those who want to make politics.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            So Germany shouldn’t have built infrastructure for the Ba’athists, but it was ok for Jews to do arms business with Apartheid “Seth Efrika?”

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        • i_like_ike52

          Regarding you comment that “Israel needs external enemies”. On what basis do you make this ridiculous comment? What do you really know about Israel? There is a heck of a lot more national solidarity in Israel, among the Jews, than there is among Americans, for example. I have lived in both countries so I have seen this myself. Where do you get your information from…from HAMAS who says “Jews are not a nation”. Or maybe from “progressives” like Sand who makes the same claim? Israeli could not have survived if it was as badly divided as you and your friends seem to think it is. Look at countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Algeria. All those countries have little or no sense of national identity and we see what happened to them. Look at the Palestinians for that matter. All those I mentioned tried to use the glue of hatred for Israel and Jews to hold themselves together, but it didn’t work in the long run.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I should refine my statement. Regardless of what internal Jewish unity you perceive, Ike52–and your emphasis on the importance of internal unity buttresses my case–Israel needs both external and internal enemies. In the sense outlined by Carlo Strenger:

            Israel’s Paranoid and Vicious Circles

            (You ask me where I get my information and how I know. I often want to ask right wing Israelis that. One thing +972 Magazine and Haaretz make clear, and my Israeli contacts confirm to me, is the willful, couldn’t be bothered quality of the masses of Israeli Jews, that the average Israeli does not know what is going on or he wants to know as little as possible, or else he, like you, knows full well and thinks it’s just fine and looks for ways to naysay and chip around the edges. I think hardly any of you pay for a subscription to your best paper other than +972, by far, Haaretz. Universally you dismiss it as a “leftist propaganda sheet” not worth reading. I think what bothers people like this most about +972 is that it’s a group of Israeli Jews and Arabs who really, truly know what’s going on in a native, on-the-ground way, with unsurpassed authenticity, and they break the silence. Break the silence. In other words, traitors, to you. If I had a nickel for every time a rightist uses the word “traitor” here….)

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    5. Lewis from Afula

      I agree with Grandpa Frost. International palestinianism represents an idealogical cul de sac mainly because it is run by Islam. An ideology that brings war, chaos and failure wherever it goes.

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    6. Bernie X

      All the Israeli women I’ve schtupped, had been Mizrahim.
      They all felt the love.

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    7. Nathanael

      Essentially correct analysis. Anyone who’s studied apartheid South Africa, or the US before the Civil War when it had slavery, recognizes the same technique.

      The guys at the top — Netenyahu types — decide to treat some part of the population as a “middle race” of overseers (in this case Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews — see also “colored” and “Indian” in South Africa). They are coopted into bullying the people at the bottom (in this case Palestinians) by being offered pittances. This racist divide-and-conquer technique works… up to a point.

      Reply to Comment