The rift between the first and second Israel

There are numerous impressive Mizrahi intellectuals, who express radical positions of various political shades, and who share the anger and rage about the continuing discrimination against Mizrahim.

ARE THEY Ashkenazi or Mizrahi? (photo credit: REUTERS)
ARE THEY Ashkenazi or Mizrahi?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ever since Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment was submitted to the Jerusalem District Court on January 21, Dr. Avishay Ben Haim, who for the last decade has served as a reporter on haredi affairs, first on Channel 10 and now Channel 13, has been full of anger and rage.
Ben Haim is especially furious about the headlines in part of the media following the attorney-general’s decision to submit the indictment against Netanyahu, immediately after the latter asked to withdraw his previous request from the Knesset to apply his procedural immunity.
The headline that enraged Ban Haim was: “The State of Israel versus Benjamin Netanyahu,” even though he admits that it accurately reflects the actual title of the indictment. His complaint is that it reflects a political attitude: that of the old (Ashkenazi) elites, who wish to see Netanyahu convicted and kicked out of the political arena, and who represent only half of Israel. The other half – the so-called second Israel – which represents Israel’s predominantly non-Ashkenazi population in the periphery, adores Bibi.
Ben Haim, a mizrahi intellectual with a long ponytail and a small, Bennett-style skullcap on his head, after years of serving (in his own words) “the liberal agenda of the Left,” has recently turned into an outspoken advocate of the second Israel. According to him, this second Israel still suffers from discrimination, and views the secular, Ashkenazi Netanyahu – who despite belonging to the top socioeconomic decile in Israel still perceives himself as a victim – as its most authentic representative.
Ben Haim did not invent the idea that there is a deep schism between Israel’s old Ashkenazi elites who support a liberal agenda as to how Israel’s democracy ought to be run, and large segments of Israel’s mizrahi population, which is more traditional in the social and religious senses, and estranged from many elements of the liberal being. Nor is he the first to try to explain why this second Israel views Netanyahu as its savior, and why it has not developed any leaders of its own, with the exception of Shas’s political leader, Arye Deri.
In fact, there are numerous impressive mizrahi intellectuals, who express radical positions of various political shades, and who share the basic anger and rage about the continuing discrimination against mizrahim (descendants of local Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa) in Israel, and their allegedly being prevented from reaching the highest positions of power. Strangely enough, they all seem to believe that it is the liberal Ashkenazim who must change their disc, while the mizrahim themselves must simply insist on their right to remain as they are. The problem is that their practical demands from the liberal Ashkenazim are simply not realistic from a psychological or sociological point of view.
For example, the Democratic Mizrahi Rainbow demands that the old Ashkenazi elites agree to voluntarily hand over state assets (i.e., lands) of which they allegedly gained control when they still ran the country. Sociology professor Nissim Mizrachi, recently stated in an interview with Haaretz that the left-wing Ashkenazim must give up their “aggressive” universal liberalism, and “connect in a very deep and pragmatic manner to problems that must be resolved in reality, and manifest real respect for the concerns of people out of a position of solidarity: to Jews who are worried about the Jewish identity of the state; Muslims who worry about the Muslim identity of their community – none of them are waiting for a feminist salvation or liberalism that will bring redemption into their lives”. When asked whether what he was suggesting was that the (Ashkenazi) Left should simply die, his answer was: “It is already dead.”
SUCH TALK – together with the habit of many of the members of the Mizrahi Rainbow to use derogatory and insulting language about Ashkenazim, when talking to Ashkenazim – is simply not effective. I am not dead, I am not a cow (or whatever), all my assets were legally and honestly earned by my family and myself, and were not bestowed upon me by the state, and I do not believe Israel’s main problem is the weakness of the Jewish identity of the state, or the Muslim identity of the Muslim community, rather than the deliberate undermining of its democratic institutions by recent Netanyahu-led governments. If certain sections of the mizrahi society disagree with me – let it be, but don’t ask me to give up my identity and beliefs in order to appease them.
Incidentally, I am not denying that a “second Israel” exists, or that Israel’s governments in the early days of its existence did not mistreat and discriminate against the immigrants who arrived in Israel from Muslim countries. I don’t even reject the narrative presented by many of the mizrahi intellectuals, and I empathize with some of the changes that they advocate, though I certainly do not accept this narrative and the agendas that accompany it lock, stock and barrel.
I have already mentioned in the past Dr. Hani Zubida’s talk show on the Knesset Channel 99. Zubida, who like Ben Haim and Prof. Mizrachi is in his 50s, is a political science lecturer at the Yezreel Valley College and an active member of the Mizrahi Rainbow. In his talk show he raises issues from the daily news, as well as various issues from the sidelines that have to do with the mizrahi social agenda. Almost all of the participants in his program are mizrahi social activists – religious, secular, right, left and center. Anyone who is accustomed to listening to the news or watching talk shows on channels 11, 12, 13 and even 20 will see here totally different faces, and hear totally different voices. It is refreshing, though frequently enervating.
Ron Huldai – the mayor of the secular, liberal capital, Tel Aviv, is frequently slandered for his alleged lack of sympathy for the problems of the weaker mizrahim. Solomon Tekah, the Ethiopian youth who was killed from an indirect bullet shot by a police officer out of uniform several months ago, is referred to on a regular basis as “the boy of us all,” even though the complicated background of the incident is never referred to, nor the identity of the shooting police officer, who might or might not have been mizrahi (most of the recent police commissioners, and most of the police force, are mizrahim).
I believe Zubida is basically a left-winger, though not a left-winger in the Ashkenazi sense, but if there is a contradiction between left-wing values and mizrahi solidarity, Zubida will invariably opt for the latter. I have never heard Zubida confront mizrahi supporters of Netanyahu or mizrahi members of Shas, and he, like other radical mizrahi intellectuals, has never tried to lead an effective, independent, non-haredi alternative for mizrahi voters, with the goal of winning for those of them who haven’t “made it” themselves a more worthy place under the sun. They seem to prefer the role of preachers to that of shepherds, and at the moment they are more inclined to deepen rifts than build bridges.
I would say, however, that at the moment they are the least of the worries of secular Ashkenazi liberals, and I believe that after the Netanyahu era, the rifts will have a better chance of healing. With or without them.