Majority of Israelis learned very little on Mizrahi Jewish culture - poll

75% of respondents said they could not recall any program or lesson in school that reinforced a positive perception of Mizrahi Jewry.

 Jewish girls at a school performance in Benghazi, Lybia. (photo credit: DIARNA)
Jewish girls at a school performance in Benghazi, Lybia.
(photo credit: DIARNA)

Although the majority of Jewish Israelis have been of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish descent for more than a decade, the reality of that seems to be completely unreflected within the Israeli school curricula. According to a new survey, the history, heritage and culture of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are largely and sometimes entirely unrepresented in Israel's educational system. The poll was presented to Minister of Social Equality Meirav Cohen on Thursday, January 20th.

 Moroccan Jews. (credit: DIARNA) Moroccan Jews. (credit: DIARNA)
While 74% of all respondents claimed that the history, heritage, and culture of Ashkenazi Jewry is taught in the educational system to a large or somewhat large extent, only 14% could say the same about Mizrahi Jewry. A whopping 80% said that it was either taught to a small or no extent. Only 7% of respondents could identify the Farhud, an Iraqi pogrom in which hundreds of Jews were slaughtered in 1941, whereas 58% could correctly identify Kristallnacht, the night that paved the way to the additional antisemitic events leading to the Holocaust. 
Furthermore, only 75% of those polled said they could not recall any program or lesson in school that reinforced a positive perception of Mizrahi Jewry. 
A classroom in Tehran, Iran, 1973. (credit: DIARNA)A classroom in Tehran, Iran, 1973. (credit: DIARNA)
According to a law passed by the Knesset in 2014, November 30th is the formal Day of Commemoration for the Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran. However, 89% of respondents had never heard of such a day. Still, 74% were in favor of establishing a government-funded museum dedicated to the history, heritage, and culture of MENA Jews.

When asked what the leaders of Arab countries should do to compensate the Jewish families that were forced out from their former MENA countries, or their descendants, 59% said they should provide full monetary compensation for the loss of their property and/or assets in their countries of origin, while only 11% said that they should waive the demand for compensation in exchange for waiving all demands from Palestinian refugees.

 Iraqi Jewish students play tennis at the Laura Kadoorie School for Girls, Baghdad, 1924. (credit: DIARNA) Iraqi Jewish students play tennis at the Laura Kadoorie School for Girls, Baghdad, 1924. (credit: DIARNA)

The poll was commissioned by Iraqi-British Jewish businessman and philanthropist David A. Dangoor CBE, of Dangoor Education, a subsidiary of the Exilarch’s Foundation, a charity that supports educational initiatives, including many in the field of Sephardi/Mizrahi heritage, culture, and education.

“The results are both disappointing and heartening,” said Dangoor. “Disappointing that so little has been done to educate about the history, culture, and heritage of MENA Jews in Israeli schools, but heartening that so many from different backgrounds seek to change that. I hope that these results serve as a wake-up call to the Israeli Government and those involved in education that the history and heritage of the majority of Jews in Israel are largely ignored.

“I decided to initiate this poll in Israel because it is the place where much of the global Jewish agenda is set, and in changing its educational policies towards greater understanding and awareness of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jewish history, heritage and culture, it would send a message to the larger Jewish world that it too must reassess its pedagogical priorities.”
 David Dangoor. (credit: Courtesy of Dangoor Education) David Dangoor. (credit: Courtesy of Dangoor Education)