Ehud Olmert to 'Post': Israel's divisions have reached near-violent levels

Of course, the most important characteristic of the First Israel is that it is made up by leftists.

Demonstrators react as police officers start detaining them during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption and economic hardship stemming from lockdown during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, near his residence in Jerusalem, August 30, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Demonstrators react as police officers start detaining them during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption and economic hardship stemming from lockdown during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, near his residence in Jerusalem, August 30, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
The heated discourse about the social, political and moral crisis that is shaking up the country has been turned by the imperial family on Balfour Street into a direct and bitter confrontation between what is known as the First Israel and what is known as the Second Israel.
The person who intensified this dispute until it reached an almost violent level is the so-called haredi (ultra-Orthodox) journalist Dr. Avishay Ben Haim, who has split the Israeli public into two categories: The first, privileged, rich Ashkenazim who enjoy all of the benefits a rich and prosperous Israeli society has to offer those who it chooses to honor; the second category is made up mostly of people from Middle Eastern origins and the haredi sector. It is by definition an underprivileged Israel that has systematically been thrown into the margins of society by the First Israel.
The first Israel, according to Ben Haim and others like him, are first and foremost the people living in Rehavia, Jerusalem’s luxurious neighborhood. This central neighborhood in western Jerusalem is where many Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical Center professors live alongside senior government officials and CEOs of huge corporations. This neighborhood represents the public that is defined as privileged.
Israeli society can be split into two categories: those who are “deserving” as opposed to those who are “underprivileged.” Rehavia residents benefit from all of the advantages, such as economic comfort, spacious housing, close ties with economic and political power centers, comfortable lives, and priority in receiving services at governmental offices. In short, everything that qualifies them to receive the title of the First Israel.
Usually when Dr. Ben Haim and others like him present these two subgroups, one next to the other, they don’t mention how many combat soldiers, pilots, paratroopers, and soldiers in the armored corps or elite units grew up in Rehavia, since these statistics do not fit with their objective of demonstrating that the people living in this community are a bunch of arrogant people who think they have everything coming to them.
Of course, the most important characteristic of the First Israel is that it is made up by leftists. Leftists in the public discourse that is currently taking place throughout the country, in addition to everything that characterizes this group, are also perhaps not as loyal to the country or  who possibly might be traitors, even if people from Rehavia are Israeli Air Force pilots or soldiers in the Special Forces, of which there are plenty.
Rehavia is of course a symbol, as are Ramat Aviv, Herzliya Pituah, Savyon, Tel Aviv suburbs, the neighborhoods surrounding Netanya, Haifa, Nahariya and Rishon Lezion. Of course, they are joined by the working people who settled the kibbutzim and moshavim in the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys and the Galilee, such as the residents of Nahalal, Kfar Yehezkel, Tel Adashim, Kfar Giladi, Tel Amal, Beit Alfa, Gvat, Yifat and many other moshavim and kibbutzim in the Negev, such as Nahal Oz and Kfar Aza.
These communities brought forth the best of the country’s volunteers, brave combat fighters, academics, literary and cultural figures, poets, scientists and advanced technologists.
THE FRAGRANCE of life that they’ve dispersed throughout the country is what gives many of us the taste of life and the joy of belonging to this place. In other words, everyone who enjoys an upper middle-class standard of living, who are not clearly identified as Middle Easterners, who live in neighborhoods that do not suffer from overcrowding and enjoy economic prosperity, and especially if their family immigrated to Israel before the establishment of the state, are on the side of the bad, arrogant people who deprive the members of the Second Israel of their rights.
The attempt to artificially create a division between Middle Eastern Jews and the First Israel is sinister. There are many hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Middle Eastern origins, whose lifestyle, culture, behavior, quality of life, education, academic, professional and economic success, and military achievements are at the highest level. Nonetheless, according to Ben Haim they are not part of First Israel and they vehemently refuse to view themselves as part of the Second Israel.
Are people like Gabi Ashkenazi, Dan Halutz and Gadi Eisenkot members of the First or Second Israel? Are Prof. Amnon Shashua and Prof. Shaul Mishal part of the First or Second Israel? Is Moshe Levy, who lost his arm in battle, following which he was decorated with a Medal of Valor, a member of the First or Second Israel? I could fill this entire newspaper column with names of Israelis of Middle Eastern origin who reached the pinnacle of military, economic, academic and technological achievements and are famous in Israel as well as around the world.
They don’t consider themselves part of the haughty first Israel, even though they possess all of the characteristics attributed to this group. They refuse to align themselves with Avishay Ben Haim’s second Israel, who view themselves as disadvantaged in comparison with so-called privileged Israelis who hold all the positions of power and enjoy all the benefits and rights the country can offer its citizens.
The second, disenfranchised Israel, in whose name Ben Haim is trying to speak, is the haredi community, which includes both Ashkenazi and Middle Eastern Jews, who live in crowded neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in Illit, Bnei Brak and many other communities around the country.
Why are people like Ben Haim dividing Israeli society in this arbitrary manner? Are they supposedly disadvantaged because they are purported to have been denied the rights and resources offered by the country? The so-called Second Israel is underprivileged because it wants to lead a different way of life that does not correspond with the hedonistic and opulent lifestyle of the first Israel, which runs the country and holds all the power and wealth.
The truth is, the division between the first and second Israel, between haredi and secular Israelis, the inequality among Ashkenazim and Middle Eastern Jews, is a false classification. It hides the attempt by those who make it to hold back the reins of political power in the State of Israel by way of division, incitement, fanning flames, hatred and feelings of discrimination based on historical memories, true hardships and difficulties adjusting that some people suffered upon arriving to Israel, especially during the early years of the state when many new immigrants flooded the country, mostly from North African countries.
THEY LIVED under difficult conditions, had a low standard of living and suffered many difficulties in adapting to Israeli culture. In addition, the Mapai Party - which then was dominating the government - was perceived to have had an aggressive attitude and many new immigrants from North Africa, who were justified for feeling bitterness and helplessness in light of the discrimination they experienced.
There is no denying that for years, members of this community, especially those who were sent out to outlying areas in northern and southern Israel, lived in unbearable conditions. They were forced to deal with excruciating difficulties and poverty, and lived in overcrowded and untenable living situations and under harsh weather conditions. In contrast, all of the government and political representatives were Ashkenazim, some of whom lived in extremely comfortable conditions.
There was a clear division between these two communities, and this feeling of bitterness penetrated into the second, and to some extent also into the third generation.
In other words, the controversy over the first and second Israel is a false usage of terminology that was meant to serve the policy of incitement and division being put forward by the prime minister and his gang on Balfour Street. Here in Israel there are the disadvantaged that “we” are saving and helping, as well as the rich leftist tycoons who are forming alliances with Ayman Odeh in order to harm the country that we tried to rescue from them.
There is no first Israel and second Israel. There is considerable and heartbreaking social inequality between people who have plenty, some of whom are Ashkenazim and some of whom are of Middle Eastern origin. Some are religious, haredi, secular or Arab. Other people live in poverty and the government is not taking proper care of them. They are not carrying out a balanced program and taking responsibility for these people, some of whom are also Ashkenazim, or of Middle Eastern origin, or religious, secular, haredi or Arab.
This, however, is not the division that interests Ben Haim and his guru from Balfour Street. They are concerned with only one question: Who’s with and who’s against us. Anyone in the latter group is a rich, leftist, arrogant traitor. Whoever is with us is a disadvantaged, Middle Eastern, haredi person who is loyal to the state.
And we haven’t even mentioned the two million Arab Israelis who live here. Are they the first, second or perhaps a third Israel? Or maybe they don’t actually count, since why would two million Israelis be on Netanyahu’s or Ben Haim’s radar if they can’t help us in our struggle to divide, incite and make our reality more complicated as a means to threaten the stability of our lives here in our country?
Israel’s Arabs, who are citizens, are here to stay. They belong to the first Israel just like all the rest of Israel’s citizens, and they are entitled to everything that everyone else receives, were it not for the prime minister who thinks that only those people who are loyal to his lawlessness deserve what the government can offer.
The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.