Why does ‘The Second Israel’ adore Benjamin Netanyahu?

What do they want from these elites and their descendants? To repent, to stop hoping that the Mizrahim will change their right-wing belief systems and traditional ways.

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In the last few weeks, there has been a barrage of public expressions by Mizrahi intellectuals directed at the old Ashkenazi elites against the background of the question why Mizrahim from the periphery (“the second Israel”) vote predominantly for Binyamin Netanyahu (for example Dr. Avihai Ben-Haim on TV Channel 13), and against the background of the argument that liberal Ashkenazim should start modifying their ideology to accept the legitimacy of the prima facie non-liberal positions of the Mizrahim (see, for example, the interview with Prof. Nissim Mizrachi in last Friday’s Haaretz weekend magazine).
Attacks by Mizrahi intellectuals on the Ashkenazi élites is nothing new. The Ashkenazi elites of yesteryear, who still hold positions of power in the Israeli media, academia and legal system, even though they have been out of power for most of the last 40 years, are accused of having created the bitterness and desire for revenge among large sections of the Mizrahi population through their condescending and discriminating attitude toward it in the past. This explains, according to the accusers, why many Mizrahim seek revenge and even compensation, vote predominantly for the Likud and Shas, and in these critical days are the most avid and blind supporters of Binyamin Netanyahu.
What do they want from these elites and their descendants? To repent, to stop hoping that the Mizrahim will change their right-wing belief systems and traditional ways, and treat them like legitimate equals, as they are. All of this is based on the assumption that the Mizrahim are a homogeneous group, best represented by MKs Aryeh Machluf Deri (Shas), Miri Regev, David Amsalem and Micki Machluf Zohar (Likud) rather than by MKs Amir Peretz, Orly Levy Abekasis, Ravital Swaid (Labor-Gesher) and Meir Cohen (Blue and White)..
I FIRST encountered members of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow in the 1980s. They are all radical left-wing or liberal Mizrahi intellectuals, many of them academics, struggling to correct the wrongs allegedly done to the Mizrahim since the establishment of the state. They apparently have very little influence in wide Mizrahi circles, and I doubt whether they have won over any Mizrahim from the Likud or Shas (I don’t think that they even try).
While I empathize with much of what they say, I frequently find their aggressive style disturbing, especially when they use abusive language in reference to Ashkenazim in general, but also when confronting individual Ashkenazim, whose sole crime is the fact that they are Ashkenazim, not anything they say or believe. I would say that it is a “façon de parler,” adopted to get even with the Ashkenazim for the way they used to and sometimes still speak of Mizrahim. However, it is not constructive, and it certainly does not serve the goal of changing how Ashkenazim – especially those belonging to the so-called old elites – perceive the Mizrahim.
I recommend to those who have never met anyone from the Rainbow to view Dr. Hani Zubeida’s talk show on Knesset TV (Channel 99 on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m.). Zubeida is one of the Rainbow’s founders, and a professor of Political Science at the Emek Yizrael College. In the talk show, current issues on the radical Mizrahi agenda are discussed by experts and commentators you will not usually come across on other programs or channels. I highly recommend watching this show, even though if you are Ashkenazi, especially one somehow associated with the old Ashkenazi elites, you will feel that there is an accusing finger pointed at you most of the time, and that you are not viewed as a potential partner to try to resolve the situation but rather as a perpetual whipping boy.
I do not know whether Zubeida is disturbed by the fact that many Mizrahim, especially from the periphery, are blind supporters of Netanyahu, or whether he agrees with Ben-Haim about the origin of this support. Ben Haim argues that many Mizrahim identify with Netanyahu’s experience as an outcast, who despite his status and power feels he is being persecuted by the law enforcement agencies. The fact that Netanyahu is a wealthy Ashkenazi, who has no Mizrahi friends and is not associated in any way with Mizrahi culture, does not seem to matter, nor do the three serious indictments against him.
Since I don’t believe Netanyahu is being persecuted, or that his indictments are discriminatory or based on fabricated evidence, I cannot sympathize with anyone who identifies with him on these grounds, though everyone has the right to support or even worship anyone he or she pleases.
I CAN understand that the Mizrahim still harbor hatred for the historical Mapai and the old establishment and consequently still support the Right. I can also understand the strong connection of the Mizrahim with tradition and religion, and their aversion to secular values and the secular way of life. However, I do not see all of this as justification for rejecting the liberal society, which I believe is the only guard against dictatorship and oppression (so did the old Likud), or for support of a man who has been indicted on criminal charges, keeps lying (every second sentence in Netanyahu’s speech last Wednesday, when he announced that he had requested that the Knesset apply immunity in his three indictments, was an outright lie or greatly inaccurate), and spreading fake news while doing everything to avoid justice. I don’t think any of this is in the realm of Cartesian logic
I must admit that what I found most disturbing in the barrage of the last week was the unequivocal statement made by Prof. Nissim Mizrachi at the end of his Haaretz interview, that “liberalism is dead” – and this after he had called on the old Ashkenazi elites to stop attacking the Mizrahim for not being liberal. Telling a liberal that liberalism is dead is like saying to a religious person that God is dead (or non-existent).
Indeed, there are few if any liberals in the current scandalous interim government, and the situation will worsen after Netanyahu finally distributes all the ministries he currently holds and is being forced to leave (he was supposed to do so by January 1). In general, there are hardly any liberals in Netanyahu’s 55 bloc. However, there are plenty of liberals in Blue and White and both liberals and social democrats in Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union. Quite a few of them are Mizrahim.
All the liberals and social democrats believe in liberal democracy, as opposed to the formal or majoritarian democracy that Netanyahu appears to believes in, even though he refuses to accept that since the April 2019 elections he doesn’t command a majority, and that trying to change this fact by means of repeated elections isn’t democratic by any definition.
Should Netanyahu manage to receive the support of 61 MKs after the March 2020 elections, Israel’s liberal democracy will certainly continue to weaken. The status of minorities, dissidents, women, the gatekeepers, public order, the rule of law and the secular space will all deteriorate. Is Mizrachi telling us that we must stop castigating traditional Mizrahim, haredim and large parts of the Arab population for rejecting women’s equality because “liberalism is dead?”