Rattling the cage: 'Vote for Peretz or you're a racist'

Enough of this emotional blackmail against liberal Ashkenazim.

By LARRY DERFNER
February 1, 2006 23:54
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )

 
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I've got a thing about Moroccans in Israeli politics - I tend to be drawn to them, to be prejudiced in their favor. They're earthy, passionate in their convictions, hot-blooded. My two political heroes over the years, the two politicians I wanted most to become prime minister, were Shlomo Ben-Ami and Amir Peretz, both born in Morocco, both Labor Party men. Another Moroccan-born politico I have a great liking for, and whose time among the contenders for national leadership was unfortunately brief, is Labor's Shimon Shetreet. I think I like Moroccan politicians because I, too, have been accused of being hot-blooded. Maybe it's my Galitzianer family background. As a Galitzianer - someone whose family came from the Galicia region of Eastern Europe - I was taught that the Litvaks, our casual pejorative for the Lithuanians, were snooty. They were cold and cerebral and they looked down on us Galitzianers, who were earthy and hot-blooded, like Gypsies. I've always been thankful that I was born a Galitzianer and not a Litvak. Once, while covering a Shetreet campaign, I listened to him joking with his poly-ethnic Jerusalem friends about Moroccans, Galitzianers and various other gangs, and I asked him what the book was on mine, and he told me Galitzianers were basically known as liars and cheats. I liked that. It enhanced my Galitzianer pride. Everything I've written here is the honest-to-God truth about what I think on this subject. I'm not being facetious one tiny bit. Obviously, what I've written can get me branded as a racist, especially by a lot of Moroccans, Lithuanians, and even by politically correct Galitzianers. But I don't care, because I know I'm not a racist. Or at least I'm no more of a racist than anybody else - certainly no more than the legions of Moroccans in this country who hate the Russians and the Arabs, if not also the blacks and the Chinese and assorted other people who look suspicious to them. The reason I bring all this up today is because of a news story in Wednesday's Haaretz headlined "Ashkenazi voter opposition to Peretz may be rooted in racism." The story quotes pro-Peretz activists, Mizrahim and Ashkenzim both, saying that all the criticism of Peretz being heard from veteran Ashkenazi Laborites is just a "veneer. The real reason is that they don't want a Moroccan leading us," said Lova Eliav, an Ashkenazi. Yuval Elbashan, one of Israel's leading social activists - I don't know if he's Ashkenazi or Mizrahi - said, "True Mapainiks who don't vote Labor will have to look at themselves in the mirror and explain why not. Peretz presents a moral challenge to the public - to overcome the little racist inside them." Alex Tanzer, identified as an immigrant rights activist - his name sounds Russian, but I could be wrong - said Peretz is having a hard time with Russian voters because "Russians don't like Moroccans, period." Now that was the one reasonable, credible statement in the whole article. Russians really do tend to be racists - against Moroccans, Arabs and Ethiopians just for starters. Writing that can get me branded an anti-Russian racist, but again, I don't care because I know I don't hate Russians. Just the opposite - I tend to like them. I find them thoughtful, profound, passionate, ironic, funny and warm. But their social and political ideas are a disgrace. That's not racism, that's the truth. IT SHOULD be understood, and I'm sure it's not, that everything I've written here is a form of generalization - a statement about a large group of people that tends to be true about individual members of the group, but is not, of course, true of every one of them. There are cold, wishy-washy Moroccans and there are stupid, politically correct Russians. But the generalizations I've made of Moroccans and Russians are, I believe, more true than false; as generalizations go, I think they're accurate. And this is what's wrong with the idea that Ashkenazi Labor voters who have have a problem with Amir Peretz really only have a problem with him being Moroccan - it's an inaccurate generalization. I know it's true for some Ashkenazi Laborites, especially among pensioners who grew up when Mizrahim really were commonly looked down on in this country. But to say Ashkenazim who are switching from Labor in this election are generally doing so because Peretz is Moroccan - that, I'm absolutely convinced, is more false than true. I think most pro-Labor or Labor-leaning Ashkenazim like myself consider Peretz's Moroccan birth to be a plus. Everything else being equal, we would prefer a Mizrahi over an Ashkenazi for prime minister. It really is about time. Most of us could be called social democrats, and as such we root for the underclass to move up the ladder, to become fully equal in society, which is one of the things a Peretz victory would symbolize. But I'm sorry - despite his being Moroccan, and despite his being the outstanding social democrat in Israel, Peretz has shown himself not to be prime ministerial material. And it's not because of his mustache, or his guttural ayin and het, or because he raises his voice a lot - it's because he seems to have a pre-intifada view of how to deal with the Palestinians. It's because he thinks an Israeli prime minister can delegate national security to the military. It's because he's over-confident to the point of smugness about his ability to make peace, which tells me he either doesn't understand the true magnitude of the challenge, or he just thinks voters ought to trust him blindly. Either way, his campaign has been a huge disappointment for me and a lot of other Ashkenazi social democrats. And by the way, wasn't there a recent poll of Mizrahi voters showing that only 9% of them thought Peretz was up to being prime minister? So enough of this emotional blackmail against liberal Ashkenazim, enough playing on our congenital guilt. I may like Moroccan politicians, but I don't like the ones who cry about being kept down by Ashkenazim, which hasn't been the case for a very long time. Any Labor Party supporter who actually wants to win an election would die to have a Mizrahi candidate at the top, as long as the candidate seemed like he or she could deal with this little geopolitical problem Israel's got, and maybe even seemed like one who wouldn't drive away Mizrahi voters. But as I've written before, I'll probably vote Labor anyway because Peretz is the best on the economy, because I want to strengthen Labor, and because I know Ehud Olmert is going to get elected prime minister and will be making security policy, which suits me. For the future, I think Labor's two rising stars, Isaac Herzog and Ophir Paz-Pines, are very impressive, and at this point they do look like prime ministerial material. Unfortunately, they're Ashkenazim, but I'm hoping they'll become a little earthier, get a little fire in their blood. If they can't be Moroccans, let them at least act like Galitzianers; the Litvaks have been running this country long enough.

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