Wanted: Leadership

“The melting pot,” as described in 1948, consisted of many groups of Israelis who came from different origins, bringing with them different ideas.

CHEERING THE creation of Israel in 1948. (photo credit: REUTERS)
CHEERING THE creation of Israel in 1948.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since its very first days, Israeli society has been divided.
“The melting pot,” as described in 1948, consisted of many groups of Israelis who came from different origins, bringing with them different ideas.
However, the melting pot did not materialize. Secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi and other groups largely maintained their core identities and did not buy into the idea of “the new Jews” that the Israeli leadership nurtured in the beginning of this state.
They obviously saw the advantages of creating a new identity for a people that had been persecuted in the Diaspora and suffered the worst crimes and horrors in human history, but they ignored the fact that not all Jews felt the same way, and not all Jews perceived the Holocaust the way they did.
For example, many of the Jews who came from Morocco still feel that their life before aliyah was a golden age for Diaspora Jews. They were integrated in general society; were highly respected in their country and some people held top positions in the Moroccan government. Over the years in Israel, many have lamented what they feel is the erasing of their rich heritage in favor of a new identity created by European Jews.
The way the government treated the new olim in the first decades of this country contributed to this sense of division. People who came from Middle Eastern countries suffered discrimination and deprivation of rights and options that were given solely to European immigrants.
Thankfully, it’s been a long time since the Israeli leadership talked about or acted to impose a collective identity on its citizens. You are no longer required to Hebraize your last name to hold a public position, like in the past. In fact, people are celebrating their individualism and identity, and in many cases are welcoming others to take part in their unique traditional rituals.
A perfect example is Mimouna, which is celebrated after Passover and has become a national holiday. Almost every politician – across the political spectrum and of all origins – wants to be photographed at a Mimouna party.
But there are people who still remind us of this old division. People with interests, who thrive on this hatred and sectarianism.
In recent days, as the protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence grow larger, we see supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying to frame them as pro-Ashkenazi and anti-Mizrahi.
This idea is being pumped mainly on social networks, alongside labeling the protesters anarchists and accusing them of spreading disease.
Netanyahu himself, being cautious, did not say explicitly that these protests are Ashkenazi against Mizrahi. But in the past, he has linked the opposition to him with the Ashkenazi vs. Mizrahi label.
In the April 2019 election, a Yediot Aharonot investigative report suggested that the Likud was operating an army of social media bots, trying to influence public opinion on Twitter and Facebook.
In response, Netanyahu called a press conference and linked bad names that people said about Mizrahim to this current criticism.
“They used to call us chakhchakhim, mobs, baboons, mezuzah kissers and now they are calling us bots,” he said.
In other instances, Netanyahu claimed that criticism, which he dubs as an “attack on him,” is an attack on all Likud voters.
Israel has reached a new low in its social division. While the division was always here, it has reached this extreme point under Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. Instead of working to heal society, he prefers to capitalize on the division and use it to his political advantage.
It works the other way as well. Politicians from Blue and White, on the other side of the spectrum, sometimes use the same divisive technique.
Israel and its leaders need to move beyond this. It is time for the people to stop letting our leadership pit groups of citizens against each other to fuel their own interests and agendas.
With the coronavirus overshadowing everything that’s taking place in the country, and the world, the nation needs unity. Ashkenazim and Mizrahim are losing their jobs and getting infected by the virus without prejudice.
It’s up to our leaders to express in words and demonstrate in action that they are acting for the benefit of everyone, and not just their base of support.