Rabbi Ovadia Yosef poster 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Sephardic issue made headlines again following the funeral last week of
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who supposedly “returned honor to Sephardic
So, does ethnic discrimination still exist in Israel? Of course it
Discrimination can still be seen in quite a few places. And yet,
after 65 years, clearly the situation is dramatically different than it was in
More than half of children being born today in Israel are of mixed
parentage, the product of a successful melting pot.
Take a look, for
example, at how successful the Russian aliya has been.
complain, they just roll up their sleeves and get down to work.
week, while people were still talking heatedly about Amnon Levi’s show that
dealt with the ongoing problem of discrimination, a thorough and important
research study prepared by Prof. Momi Dahan was published that disproves this
Over the last 15 years, the gap between Sephardic and Ashkenazic
Jews in Israel has been reduced dramatically in almost all fields. A gap still
exists, but it is negligible. We are pointed in the right direction and the pace
According to the study, most Israelis do not categorize
themselves today as Sephardic or Ashkenazic.
They no longer live in a
society that distinguishes between its residents in a way that Shas politicians
and Amnon Levi would have us believe.
The gap in salaries between
Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews has decreased over the past 15 years from 40
percent to 25%, or 1 percentage point each year. The number of Sephardic
Israelis in the top 5% rose dramatically; they are currently represented in this
group in accordance with their percentage in the general population. In the
bottom 5%, their numbers fell dramatically and amazingly enough, there are fewer
Sephardic Israelis in the lowest percentile than their share of the
This important and serious research study confirms a simple
reality: People who’ve clung to the mentality that Sephardic Jews still suffer
discrimination have been left behind, whereas people who’ve decided to take
responsibility for their own lives have advanced.
platform, which relies on people trying to hold on to their Sephardic “honor,”
no longer seems relevant. When you insist on always talking about honor, instead
of dealing with life, all you have at the end of the week is your honor – but no
I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague, Ben Dror Yemini, who
wrote this week that when Prof.
Amnon Rubinstein, as education minister
in the mid-’90s, allowed academic colleges to open (and break the universities’
monopoly), he contributed to the narrowing of the gap much more than all of
Shas’s actions together. This new relatively easy accessibility to higher
education, combined with the dramatic entrance of Sephardic Jews into the
workforce (mostly Sephardic women) are what really helped to rapidly cut the
So are there still populations in Israel where a gap still exists?
Yes, in the Arab and haredi communities.
Haredi Israelis – mostly the
Sephardic ones – who spend all day talking about “restoring their honor” have in
the meantime adopted the black hat and black coat dress of Lithuanian Jews. What
kind of honor has Shas returned to the masses of Sephardic Jews who’ve begun
behaving and dressing as if they’re living in European ghettos in the 19th
century? This self-depreciation of the Sephardic yeshivas continues. Shas
leaders send their own children to the Lithuanian yeshivas and not to the
Sephardic ones. What kind of glory are they trying to return to by doing this?
Did Arye Deri’s grandfather in Morocco wear a black hat? Did Eli Yishai’s
great-grandfather in Tunis learn Talmud and commentary in an Ashkenazic dialect?
If Shas really wanted to close the gap, it would encourage its members to study,
to work and to contribute to the society, including serving in the army. This is
exactly what Rabbi Haim Amsalem has been saying for years.
And it’s also
why Shas threw him out like he was an old, useless dog.
There is still
one hope that the Sephardic community can alter its fate – and her name is Adina
Bar- Shalom, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s eldest daughter.
during a TV interview just last week: She is indeed considering going into
politics. And I truly hope that she does. It will be a seminal event.
hope grows when we see the lists of haredi women running for city council in
Elad, despite the harassment and hostility they suffer within their own
communities. Or Ruth Koliyan, a young and courageous haredi mother of four who
petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that political parties that
don’t include women in their candidate lists be cut off from government
appropriations. When Arye Deri laments that Shas women don’t want to perform at
the front of the stage, he’s not telling the truth. Shas women are just as
oppressed as women in Iran.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.