haredim protest emmanuel 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The recent exclusion of Sephardi girls from a Beit Ya’acov school in Emmanuel
raises afresh the issue of equality between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in
Whenever this issue rears its head, I feel that I am on the wrong
side. I am an Ashkenazi. Furthermore, I am an Ashkenazi born to a bourgeois
Polish-Jewish family. However, I was born color-blind.
The color, or
ethnic origin of human beings never meant a thing to me. Perhaps my
color-blindness was caused by my childhood in a right-wing Revisionist
The national strife against the British rulers, the fight for
independence united all ethnic groups within the Irgun.
One of my most
memorable memories was the joint suicide of Meir Feinstein, an
Moshe Barazami, an Iraqi Jew, a short time before they were due to be
the British Mandatory regime. A hand grenade was smuggled into their
cell by the
Irgun and both of them blew themselves up hugging each other. When
Begin mentioned their self-sacrifice in an election rally in 1981, my
Revisionist blood rushed to my head. I was a Shinui man then, but
these two martyrs, my Revisionist childhood woke up inside me.
was born color-blind but not blind, I could see what was happening in
society: I saw the achievements as well as the failures to close gaps
Ashkenazi and Sephardi segments. And I always had a guiding principle:
these gaps until the future of every Israeli child – Ashkenazi,
Jew, Muslim, Christian and Druse – will not depend on the ethnic descent
or her parent.
I am not blind to the achievements: Few countries have
overcome the social challenges as Israel has. Perhaps, the greatest
is that the original substantive differences in family patterns of
and Sephardim – in the rate of marriage and divorce as well as the
children – have almost disappeared.
Moreover, many gaps depend not upon
ethnic origin but on place of residence (center or periphery), service
IDF (an important factor in gap-closing), size of family and number of
There are many spheres in society in which the integration of
Sephardi Jews is remarkable. In politics, business, the arts, the army –
unparalleled in European societies.
BUT ONLY the blind will fail to
notice the unpleasant facts. Thus, in recent research, a social
that of the universities’ tenured staff, the share of Sephardi Jews was
percent and at Tel Aviv University less than 8%. It should be assumed
full professors, the rate is even lower. Can we explain this
figure by objective criteria? If so, how do we explain the fact that at
of the Finance Ministry, there are so many Sephardim while at the
university schools of business and economics there are so few? Indeed
scholars hold tenured and highly regarded positions – in foreign
I do not think this is due to outright discrimination, but
rather to the fact that Israeli academics, especially in the politicized
sciences, tend to replicate themselves. Indeed, some university
as if the academic staff is made up of academic clones, sharing a
curriculum vitae and identical political and ideological views. Anyone
familiar with the groves of academe will immediately identify this mold,
excludes not only non-Ashkenazi candidates but also anyone who does not
Obviously, side-by-side with this wrongful selection in
universities, there looms the fact that there are painful educational
between the two communities.
In the past, many of us hoped that the high
rate of intercommunal marriages would produce a third generation, in
descent would not matter, and all inequalities would be eradicated.
Unfortunately, another research project indicates that among pupils of
third generation, whose parents are Israeli-born, the gaps remain
Worse – even, in cases of offspring of intercommunal
marriages, the gap is reduced by half but it still exists. The report
one bright hope: The spread of academic colleges throughout the country,
allows students from underprivileged parts to acquire academic
bear egalitarian fruit in the future.
Indeed, the Emmanuel crisis points
to our duty: endeavor to eliminate all differences between all Israelis,
including Arabs, so that one day we shall live in a country where the
a child does not depend on where, or to whom, he or she was born.The
writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a
minister of education and MK and the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize