Daniel Ben Simon 370.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Labor Party could disintegrate due to an irreparable rift on ethnic issues
exacerbated by the behavior of chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich, former Labor MK
Daniel Ben- Simon predicted Sunday.
Ben-Simon said he had received
countless complaints from Sephardi Labor-party members on the periphery since a
party activist named Danny Zamir insulted the crowd at Thursday’s Labor
Zamir spoke in favor of Yacimovich, and at the event called
the crowd “arsim” – a perjorative term for a low socioeconomic stereotype that
often carries ethnic connotations.
Yacimovich apologized for Zamir’s
language, but defended him personally at the event in the weekly email address
to her supporters that she sent out Saturday night. Ben- Simon blamed Yacimovich
for creating an atmosphere that he suggested led to the departure from the party
of top Sephardi figures like Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and
“It is so sad for me as a member of Labor that the main dividing
line inside the party is not the peace process, education policies or how to
reach equality, but an ethnic line,” Ben-Simon said. “The more I think about it,
the more hopeless I am that Labor can overcome this issue. I cannot understand
why Labor continues to fail to integrate people who do not belong to the
families of the founders of the country.”
Ben-Simon recalled Labor’s
painful history with ethnic issues. The party lost the 1981 election after the
late entertainer Dudu Topaz in a speech at a Labor rally called Sephardim
chah-chahim, a derogatory slang term for Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern
In 1998, Labor MK Ori Orr caused a controversy when he blamed
Morrocan Jews for problems in Labor and the country. Orr made the comments in an
interview with then-journalist Ben-Simon.
“A woman who was lived in
Beersheba like Yacimovich should understand better than anyone else the fragile
composition of Israeli society, but she is failing the same way that Shimon
Peres, Ehud Barak, and Ori Orr did before her,” Ben- Simon lamented.
is on the verge of dividing Labor, not on ideology but along ethnic lines. She
will go into history as a woman elected with hope, but who broke up the party on
ethnic lines, and people will not be able to forgive her for
Labor’s secretary-general, MK Hilik Bar, who like Ben-Simon is of
Sephardi descent, said that their rise to prominence and influence was proof
that Ben- Simon was incorrect.
“This issue is very delicate and Mr.
Ben-Simon sadly took it in the wrong direction,” Bar said. “Labor is a home for
people from all over Israel: cities, kibbutzim, men, women, youths and seniors,
and of course [for those] from all the different religious and ethnic groups,
who are at all levels of leadership within the party. I truly hope that Labor’s
leaders and activists will choose to focus on our two main banners, social
justice and peace, rather than resort to racial or ethnical debates whose
relevancy passed years ago.”
Labor officials noted that Ben- Simon
himself had embarrassed the party in January 2012 when he told a Knesset
conference that Yisrael Beytenu MKs “poisoned and polluted” the Knesset and
called for them to join the conference in order to “learn what they were not
taught in school in Saint Petersburg.”
Ben-Simon apologized for those
remarks the following day.
Zamir told Army Radio Sunday morning that he
had not intended to use the term arsim and that he regretted it.
knew it would cause such a storm, of course I would never have used that term,”
Zamir said. “It was a mistake to use the term ‘arsim’ in a public place that is
so tense, like a Labor convention. It was not intended to be ethnic. Labor is as
multi-ethnic as it gets.”