Minister Miri Regev.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The headline is a quote of Ron Kachlili – a Mizrahi intellectual and activist who has produced numerous documentary films on the issue of the status of Mizrahim in Israel – especially their alleged inferior social, economic, cultural and political status.
I say “alleged” not because I deny that the Mizrahim have suffered, and in many respects continue to suffer from discrimination at the hands of many of the various Ashkenazi elites (not least of all the Ashkenazi religious establishment), but because Mizrahi pop music is thriving, there are numerous very rich Mizrahi businessmen, there are many Mizrahim among the professional elite, the top echelons of the IDF, Israel Police and the government.
But according to Kachlili, the Mizrahi struggle has failed, at least relatively speaking. Kachlili attributes this failure to the fact that the Mizrahi “tribe” is disunited and its various sections are “yellow” to each other.
In other words, there are Mizrahim who have chosen to resemble the Ashkenazim in their cultural preferences; there are Mizrahim who prefer to be referred to as Israelis of Iraqi, Moroccan, Yemenite or whatever origin; there are Mizrahim who have chosen an ultra-Orthodox way of life and the Shas slogan “to return the pristine glory”; Mizrahim in the periphery despise Mizrahi intellectuals, those with left-wing inclinations, etc.
Having viewed Kachlili’s two most recent TV documentary series: “Arsim and Frehot
[two derogatory terms that are frequently used to describe Mizrahim who dress and behave in a certain “vulgar” and loud manner] – the New Elites
,” and “Achlu Li Shatu Li
[literally “they drank and ate what is mine,” which refers to Ashkenazi accusations that Mizrahim continuously and unjustifiably whining] – The Next Generation
,” I can understand the bitterness felt by many Mizrahim against the Ashkenazim, and can appreciate their desire to be themselves, without excuses and without having to measure up to Ashkenazi values and standards.
I can also understand and sympathize with the demands that the Israeli education system place greater focus on the history of the Mizrahi dispersions, the Mizrahi contribution to the creation of the State of Israel, on Mizrahi culture and Mizrahi scholars, and that a larger share of the state budget be devoted to Mizrahi cultural institutions and artists. I can even understand the psychological need of some Mizrahim to express scorn and contempt for the secular Ashkenazi culture, norms and modus operandi.
However, when Kachlili praises the disrespectful and vulgar conduct of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev vis-à-vis the Ashkenazi artistic elites, just because she is a traditional Mizrahi woman, born in the periphery, even though he admits that he despises her racism against the Arabs and African refugees and her right-wing ideology, my understanding and sympathy turn into revulsion.
I also have a problem with the fact that many Mizrahi intellectuals of the likes of Kachlili voted in the last elections for Shas, despite the fact that they are secular or mildly traditional, just because it is a purely Mizrahi party. Some even voted for the United Arab List since they consider the Arabs to be Mizrahim like themselves, only of the Muslim faith. I do not know how Kachlili himself voted, but like most Mizrahi intellectuals he apparently never considered entering the political battleground himself.
Whenever I ask acquaintances from the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition (Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit) – a movement of radical Mizrahi intellectuals – why they do not enter active politics (MK Prof. Yossi Yona of the Labor Party is an exception), they answer that they believe their vocation is to place issues on the public agenda for others to act upon.
I suspect that this aversion to getting actively involved in politics is the main reason why the struggle which the Mizrahi intellectuals support has not made more significant progress.
If the disunity of the Mizrahi tribe is, as Kachlili claims, a major reason for the failure of the Mizrahi struggle to make more significant progress, it makes sense that someone should try to convince the various sections of this tribe that acting in concert would serve their interests.
This cannot be achieved by non-political means.
It certainly cannot be achieved by approaching the predominantly left-wing Ashkenazi readers of Haaretz (as Kachlili has done) and the predominantly left-wing Ashkenazi viewers of TV Channel 8 (where Kachlili’s documentary films are shown).
Neither can it be achieved by cheering Regev, who attacks the Ashkenazi cultural elites and thus alienates not only Ashkenazi left-wingers but also many Ashkenazi right-wingers along the way.
Though Shas has a vision of returning to a rather fuzzy concept of pristine glory, it is certainly not exactly the vision that Kachlili has for the future.
But perhaps in a period of political and social turmoil such as that which Israel is going through these days, no one really has the time and patience to contend with expectations for a Mizrahi revolution, or with the burning concerns and dreams of any other population group, for that matter.The writer is a political scientist.