Haaretz’s Mizrahi problem
Haaretz’s Mizrahi problem

While reading Shaina Oppenheimer’s piece in Haaretz, “Coronavirus Inflames Israel's Endemic, Dehumanizing anti-Asian Racism Problem,” I was struck by one passage in particular. 

Ms. Oppenheimer wrote, “The number of those who do acknowledge the racism in Israeli society, whether it’s racism against Israel’s Mizrahi and Ethiopian communities, Sudanese asylum seekers or Palestinians, is far too small. Of a country of nine million people, tens of thousands, some say 50,000, protested against the Jewish nation-state law in Tel Aviv. That’s 0.5 percent of Israel’s population. Only 0.5 percent of the population going out to demonstrate over a law that reinforces Jewish supremacy.”

This is the standard language of American intersectionality, but with American minority groups (African-Americans, LGBTQ people, Muslims, immigrants, etc.) substituted for Israeli “minority” groups. While this wasn’t Ms. Oppenheimer’s point, I noticed her assertion that racism against Mizrahim, Ethiopians, Palestinians, and Sudanese asylum seekers was comparable, and that these groups should be interested in banding together to protest the “Jewish supremacist” nation-state law.

The basis of intersectionality is that minority groups should unite to secure liberation, so it’s likely perplexing to an outsider that an oppressed group like Mizrahim may not feel affinity for other oppressed groups, namely Palestinian Arabs or Sudanese asylum seekers.

I see this as a continuation of previous attempts to understand and train the mysterious and vexing Mizrahi brain, all courtesy of Haaretz: “If Sephardic Jews Want to End Their Discrimination, They Must Become Proud Arabs,” “Israeli Jews With Mideast Roots Must Shun Identity Politics,” and my personal favorite, “The Real Reason Mizrahim Vote for Netanyahu, and Why the Left Can't Win Them Over.” Spoiler alert: ‘the Mizrahi majority is upset by the Tel Aviv left and even hates them.’

This may come as news to some Haaretz readers, but Mizrahim are sentient beings, complete with functioning brains and their own independent thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies. Mizrahim are not empty vessels in need of Ashkenazi-led reeducation efforts to teach them not to vote for Bibi (Netanyahu Is Bad for Mizrahi Jews.)

Mizrahim are not empty vessels in need of Ashkenazi-led reeducation efforts to teach them not to vote for Bibi.
Mizrahim are not a group whose “human values need to be changed from the ground up,” as David Ben-Gurion said of Yemenite Jewish immigrants in 1952, a belief which is still held by many in the Israeli elite today. It does not need to be explained to Mizrahim that they should be uniting with Palestinians or Sudanese asylum seekers to battle Ashkenazi supremacy under a banner of shared oppression. 

This is without discussing the fact that Mizrahim are not a monolith, as there are significant differences in culture as well as the experiences of immigration and assimilation in Israel between Moroccan Jews and Yemeni Jews, Kurdish Jews and Persian Jews, and so on.

Of course, in our personal lives, as well as in the public sphere, we should disrupt racism and actively challenge situations of injustice whenever we encounter them. In that same spirit, we must continue to acknowledge the systematic and institutionalized racism that Mizrahim have endured for years and still suffer from to an extent today, albeit in a less overt manner. 

But to believe that we know what is best for another group means that we are denying that group its agency. The idea that Ashkenazim need to instruct Mizrahim on how to fight racism and how best to pursue freedom and equality in Israeli society is, in itself, racist, as it’s based on the belief that Mizrahim are not able to help themselves.

Despite enjoying Darbuka-heavy music and kissing amulets, the rates of educational attainment, salaries, and home ownership (including the number of MKs) amongst Mizrahim are steadily rising. It’s clear that Mizrahim are perfectly capable, if they feel it is necessary, of "liberating" themselves.